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Arizona Child Abuse Rises as Recession Deepens

May 26, 2009

Phoenix, AZ - As Arizona's economy has slumped, reports of child abuse have increased. Phoenix Children's Hospital reported 63 child abuse cases through April, up 40 percent during the same period last year and 60 percent from two years ago.

Mary Warren is campaigning to stop a severe form of abuse, Shaken Baby Syndrome.

"In about a third of cases, babies die from being shaken. In about a third of cases, they have pretty serious injuries, which might mean seizures; it might mean paralysis, blindness, hearing loss, mental retardation."

Warren, the statewide coordinator for Never Shake A Baby Arizona, says it's normal for babies to cry, especially in their first six months of life. Her program seeks to educate new parents as they leave the hospital about why babies cry, and offer appropriate ways to deal with it. Crying is how infants communicate with parents, she explains - and there's always a reason.

"Are they wet, are they sick, are they hungry? Do they need to burp? Maybe they're just overstimulated; too much is going on and they need a chance to settle back. Or maybe they're bored."

Babies like motion, so Warren suggests holding a fussy baby, cuddling or softly jiggling them, or going for a walk with a stroller.

She points out that damage to a baby's fragile brain is not always caused by a single, violent shaking incident, but can be the result of a number of episodes, over time.

"The brain content is more liquid, more water. So the brain really sloshes around inside the skull, and that can cause bleeding inside the skull - which then swells, and then you have real damage to the brain tissue."

Brain cells don't regenerate, so even if a baby seems okay, Warren warns that damage from shaking can show up years later as learning disabilities or behavior problems.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ