Education is Key in Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Assemblyman Magnarelli visits Solvay High School for Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness Week

As a father of three children, I understand the importance of protecting our families from harm. It is unimaginable to me the number of children who are killed every year – often accidentally – because of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). Too many people do not realize how dangerous it is to shake an infant. Between one-fourth and one-third of Shaken Baby Syndrome victims die, and it’s a problem that is growing. Of the infants that survive this brutal act, more than half suffer from severe injuries and impairments, such as blindness, paralysis and mental retardation. Those injuries, and the substantial costs that follow, could be prevented by 15 minutes of education.

The most effective way to end Shaken Baby Syndrome is by preventing such abuse. It is clear that the minimal costs of educational and preventive programs may avert medical and disability costs, as well as untold grief to families. The New York State Legislature has named the third week in April ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness Week’ to raise awareness and educate the public about SBS.

We can’t ignore the terrible consequences of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Last year I sponsored legislation which was signed into law that made reckless assault causing brain injury to a child under age 5 a Class D felony instead of a misdemeanor, carrying up to a 7-year prison sentence (Chapter 110 of 2006). The legislation, called ‘Cynthia’s Law’ is named after 8-month-old Cynthia Gibbs who died from a brain injury at the hands of her babysitter. ‘Cynthia’s Law’ also creates a Shaken Baby Syndrome public education campaign to help prevent future tragedies.

Too many children have needlessly died because of this cruel behavior. Education about Shaken Baby Syndrome is the key to prevention. In an effort to help combat the incidence of SBS through education and awareness to high school students, I authored legislation which encourages SBS education as a part of the already-required parenting education students receive before graduation (Chapter 177 of 2006). Educating students about SBS prevention is vital because, apart from being potential future parents, many students baby-sit or help care for younger children after school and on the weekends. Furthermore, showing a video in secondary schools ensures that “males in the household,” other than fathers receive education about SBS prevention.

I have long been an advocate of Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness which is why I authored legislation that requires hospitals and birth centers to request that maternity patients and fathers view a video presentation on the dangers of shaking infants (Ch. 219 of 2004). This law has ensured that countless new parents in New York learn what SBS is, and how to prevent it. Despite its success, this program often fails to reach parents who are incarcerated during their child’s birth, as well as non-related adults in the household. To address this problem, I have sponsored legislation which requires that inmates in state correctional facilities receive instruction on SBS, which could help to save the lives of children who will be under their care once they are released from prison (A.316).

On Thursday, April 19, 2007 I will be visiting Solvay High School to speak to students about the importance of Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness. I deeply care about keeping our children safe. Through education, awareness and prevention, I am confident we can curb the instances of Shaken Baby Syndrome in New York State.