Social services are required by law to investigate any suspected cases of abuse of a child. This abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual. One of the types of case that have been recently pointed up by the media are those of shaken baby syndrome ( Shaken Baby Abusive head trauma (AHT).
Shaken baby syndrome is the media-sensationalised term used to describe babies or young children with a possible inflicted head or brain injury. Other labels for the condition include:
- Inflicted Traumatic Brain Injury
- Battered Child Syndrome
- Inflicted Head Trauma
- Shaken Impact Syndrome
- Shaking Injury
- Whiplash Infant Syndrome
- Whiplash-shaking injury
All of the above are used to describe those symptoms consistent with a small child having been shaken or thrown. The result is a range of serious injuries to a baby or small child, which are often fatal. Head injuries are the most common, but there may also be injuries to other parts of the body.
In the eyes of the medical, social care and judicial communities, what is important is the identification of non-accidental injuries in the child and the consequences in terms of treatment, investigation, identification of the abuser and safeguarding of the child and any siblings from further harm.
Initial indicators that a child may be suffering shaken baby syndrome include any of the following, alone or in any combination:
- Abnormal movements or seizures
- Increased or decreased muscle tone
- Poor feeding
- Irregular breathing
- Apnoea (stopping breathing)
When weighing up the likelihood of any non-accidental injury, and thus the need to report the suspected abuse to social services, hospital staff will take the following into account:
- Any explanation given by the parents for the injury;
- Any inconsistencies between the explanation and the injuries;
- Where there is any doubt over the validity of the explanation given, the opinion of a paediatrician should be obtained;
- When injuries follow genuine accidents, the child is normally presented promptly and there is a clear history of an accident;
- When injuries are non-accidental, there may be delay in seeking medical advice (although on occasion a delay may follow an accident where the parents had initially thought the infant was alright);
- When injuries are non-accidental, the explanation may be vague.
Associated risk factors will also be taken into account in weighing up the likelihood of infliction of non-accidental injury, which include:
- Child or siblings subject to a Child Protection Plan;
- Previous history of sudden infant death or apparent life threatening events in the family;
- Very young parents;
- Parents suffering from addictive behaviours;
- Parents showing odd behaviour, for example, very aggressive;
- A history of domestic violence;
- If the child appears to be failing to thrive.
Should hospital staff have good reason to suspect that the child’s injuries are non-accidental, immediate referral will be made to Children’s Social Care, irrespective of the time or day.
The accusation of causing non-accidental injury is a serious one, as are the consequences. Wrongly accused, you could even unjustly have your child taken by social services, so it is vital that you get legal representation in the care proceedings that will follow the accusation.