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Raising Awareness About ‘Shaken Baby’ Injuries

May 17, 2010

By Shadae Lee
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Babies are more fragile than a lot of people think – and shaking them, in anger or even playfully, can cause brain damage. Medical experts call the injury “shaken baby syndrome.”

Thanks to a new state law, Virginia soon will launch a campaign to inform parents and caretakers about shaken baby syndrome, which can result in blindness and death.

“It is so essential that all Virginians understand the dangers of shaking or jerking an infant or even an older child,” said Marianne McGee, director of public affairs for the Virginia Department of Social Services.

The law is the result of House Bill 411, which was passed unanimously this year by the General Assembly. The measure, sponsored by Delegate G. Glenn Oder, R-Newport News, was nicknamed “Jared’s Law” for a Virginia Beach infant who died after complications caused by shaken baby syndrome.

That case, McGee said, “really got the attention of lawmakers and the community.”

In 2006, Jared, then 6 weeks old, was shaken violently and suffered severe brain damage. His father was convicted of child abuse and sentenced to seven years in prison and 13 years on probation.

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Jared’s grandparents, Steve and Kathy Stowe of Hampton, cared for Jared after his traumatic injuries. Steve Stowe also formed a nonprofit group called Shaken Baby Syndrome of Virginia Inc.

“I formed Shaken Baby Syndrome of Virginia Inc. in order to find a way to help any child from facing what Jared went through on a daily basis just to stay alive,” Stowe said. “It became obvious that education and awareness had to be at the forefront.”

While working for Delegate Oder as a self-employed contractor, Stowe sparked up a conversation about Jared.

“He asked me if I would like to witness step by step how a bill gets passed in the state of Virginia, and I was elated,” Stowe said. “He did everything he said he would. Jared’s Law is just a beginning.”

Under the law, the Department of Social Services “shall make information about shaken baby syndrome, its effects, and resources for help and support for caretakers in a printable format, and information about how to acquire information about shaken baby syndrome and its effects in an audiovisual format, available to the public on its website.”

“Such information shall be provided to every child welfare program required to be licensed by the Department at the time of initial licensure and upon request. The Department shall also make the information required in this section available to foster and adoptive parents and other persons, upon request,” the statute reads.

McGee said her agency’s website, www.dss.virginia.gov, “will be an important vehicle for raising awareness.” The department plans to post printed materials, public service announcements, web links and other resources about shaken baby syndrome.

“It is critical that any caregiver understand the long-term effects – including death – that can result from abusive head trauma/shaken baby syndrome,” McGee said.

In 2009, Virginia had six reports of shaken baby syndrome, she said.

Jared did not live long enough for the General Assembly to pass the law that bears his name. He died Dec. 11. The boy’s death has strengthened his grandparents’ resolve.

“I made Jared some very personal promises before he passed, and one of them was to never stop trying to help babies,” Steve Stowe said.

“My goal is to make education and awareness training a mandatory requirement at every prenatal venue in the State of Virginia before babies can go home with their parents,” he said.

Stowe also wants other states to adopt legislation similar to Jared’s Law.


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