There are 1,200 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome, or abusive head trauma, a year in the United States, according to St. Croix County Public Health Nurse Sue Lindberg. Shaken Baby Syndrome causes permanent brain damage due to bleeding in the brain. SBS leads to death in 25 percent of the cases and various degrees of brain damage and disability in the remaining 75 percent.
Because of this, and because students learn in a wide variety of ways, the St. Croix County Citizen Review Panel decided to donate Shaken Baby Syndrome dolls to all of the school districts in St. Croix County.
"We know that our kids learn a million different ways. Some do better when they see it and some do better when they hear it, but we know that when you put the visual with the lesson plan, you will have a better impact," said New Richmond School District Nurse Joan Simpson. "This doll is really visual. When you shake it, the head lights up to show how much, or how little, it would take to affect the baby."
The St. Croix County Citizen Review Panel is a coalition of citizens and human services staff that work together to educate and prevent child abuse.
"The main reason a caregiver (male or female) would shake a baby is due to crying and their inability to cope with it. They shake the baby out of frustration," said Lindberg. "The doll is a wonderful teaching tool to help educate students and adults on the dangers of shaking a baby or young child and leads to discussions on how to cope with a crying infant and soothing techniques."
St. Croix County Public Health reached out to Simpson last spring to see if she would be interested in getting one of the dolls through a grant. Simpson answered back right away: yes.
"When you let somebody babysit your kid, you hope that they treat them tenderly, but we don't always know that," Simpson said. "When kids, or people in general, get frustrated and they shake that baby, that is irreversible brain damage. It is a one time thing, so I tell people to make sure they trust who they are leaving their baby with. I'm not questioning you as a parent, but if you leave the kids with a group that isn't as versed in taking care of a child, you don't know what could happen."
Simpson estimates that over 230 students in the New Richmond School District will be exposed to and reap the benefits of having the Shaken Baby Syndrome doll in their classroom. The students will see the doll in the middle school's family and consumer education class as well as the high school's infant and toddler class. A doll will also be used for babysitting classes through community education.
"What I want them to see is how much force it takes for that head to light up on the doll. You might think, 'that's not so bad,' but you'd be surprised what the doll will react to when you do that," Simpson said. "You have to protect that head and neck so much.
"These are kids that babysit, work in childcare centers. So to give them that visual about that and how little force it takes to cause trauma, I think that will make us better as a community. Right now, we just show movies to the kids, but you can't see inside the brain. That is the key to this doll because it shows what is happening."
According to middle school family and consumer education teacher Laura Feyma, the State of Wisconsin passed ACT 165 in 2006 which required schools to provide training in Shaken Baby Syndrome to students at least once between fifth and eighth grade. For the past several years New Richmond Middle School students have been receiving this training during their eighth grade Family Consumer Science rotation.
The first few weeks of the course are designed to give students background knowledge and build new skills in child development, guidance/discipline techniques, and the importance of play, Feyma said. After a review of successful strategies for child care and development, the classes discuss the serious nature of shaking and abusively harming a child.
"The new simulator assists students to visually connect the portions of the brain that are harmed as a result of abusing a child. They also see how easily a child is harmed from this type of abuse and the physical characteristics that make a child more susceptible to injury," Feyma said. "As soon as the simulator is turned on the baby begins to cry; it is a very realistic cry, as it is a recording of an actual baby. I turn on the simulator and I instruct the students to create a list of activities an adult could use to relax. During this activity some students become very frustrated and ask that the simulator be turned off because they cannot concentrate."
After getting the experience of handling the Shaken Baby Syndrome doll, the class discusses their reactions and the real life frustration they may encounter with a child who is frequently crying and not being able to "turn off" the baby's cry.
"I have found the simulator to be a great addition to Shaken Baby curriculum that we already have in place by allowing students to physically see the injuries occurring to a child when they are violently shaken," Feyma said.
According to Lindberg, there are three other dolls similar to the Shaken Baby Syndrome doll at the the St Croix County Service Center, including a drug withdrawal doll, a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome doll and a real care doll, which Lindberg uses when she teaches her infant/toddler safety classes.