Sunday, April 13, 2008

It might be useful to remind readers where the name "SKIPPER" comes from.

It is, first and foremost, the name of our first son. He died on December 3, 2000 as the result of injuries inflicted when he was shaken by his child care provider, a 51 year old grandmother, who had raised four children of her own and was also caring for her grandson at the time.

A few weeks later, a group of family and friends had formed to work on prevention. Casting about for a name, the group came up with a wonderful one that encapsulates the meaning of our organization: "Shaking Kills: Instead Parents Please Educate and Remember."

The SKIPPER Initiative has been working since then to educate parents and others who care for young children about the vulnerability of young children to shaking injuries, and what parents can do to help protect their child from those injuries.

The first step in prevention is to replace ignorance with information. No parent should ever have the opportunity to say "if only I had known..."

That simple step has powerful consequences. Since a simple education program started at Buffalo area hospitals in 1998, using a short video and a few minutes of a nurse's time, the incidence of inflicted head injuries has been reduced by 47%.

But education is more than telling parents what not to do. Information about how to cope with the inevitable moments of frustration is also necessary. Colic, teething, tantrums and other events challenge the patience of parents.

Information about coping is especially important in today's society where small families and larger dispersion means many parents and caregivers are less familiar with the realities of raising small children.

Perspective is equally important. Faced with a colicky baby, many parents wonder if their parenting skills are fundamentally inadequate. That feeling of frustration may contribute to post partum depression and stress the entire family.

Awareness and support can help parents understand that their behavior isn't creating a colicky babies and that there are constructive ways to cope with those challenges.

In the long run, supportive parenting education that helps parents anticipate and understand the challenges of the first year of life, and to learn about the DO's - those things they should do - not just the DON'Ts, will be the best prevention tool.

One of those things will be to educate other caregivers.

In today's society, children have many caregivers before they turn 3 years old. Recent estimates are that 7 to 8 million children under age 5 are in child care for all or part of a week.

In addition to making sure each one of those caregivers is aware of the danger of shaking injuries, parents have to remember to pass along their knowledge of their child. Knowing that a child is sick or teething or or irritable because of a vaccination - or even that the child just didn't sleep well last night - can help that child's caregiver be prepared to cope with frustration.

Reframing the message: moving from "child abuse prevention" to "injury prevention and safety" helps everyone hear the message.

Shaking can kill or injure a child. Parents can help protect their child by remembering the consequences, remembering how to cope and educating other caregivers.

We've not yet found a caregiver who didn't respond favorably when asked to help keep a child safe.

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