There are more than 1,300 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome in the United States every year, according to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Sadly, one out of four babies who are shaken die from their injuries and 80% suffer lifelong disabilities.
One family is on a mission to stop the abuse.
Jamie Thompson sits next to her eight-year-old son, Colby, who requires 24-hour care after suffering abuse at the hands of a babysitter.
“We’ve been told that he doesn’t have enough brain function to know what’s going on around him. But my husband and I feel very differently about that, especially when his siblings are getting scolded about something," said his mother, Jamie Thompson. "He does the little brother giggle. You can just see it on his face, like he thinks it’s so funny when his sister's getting in trouble."
The daily effort Thompson and her family goes through to care for Colby can cloud the memories of the happy baby he used to be. And unfortunately, it doesn’t obscure the memory of the day everything changed for Colby.
“From the police, they say that he was excessively crying and she grew frustrated, and she picked him up out of the exer-saucer that he was in and slammed him down on his bottom on the ground," said Jamie. "His head snapped forward, and she said she heard an audible snap in his neck."
That chilling report can’t even begin to describe the months and years of anguish this family has gone through to get to normal.
“To us, Colby has purpose in life," said his mother. "Colby is still a very influential person in our life. I don’t want what happened to him to be the last of him. And if there’s some way that I can make it that another family doesn’t experience what I, we had to, then I’m going to do everything I can."
Thompson has made it her life’s work to educate parents and child care providers about the ways to care for a crying baby.
“My motto is 'have a plan, take a break and never shake.' Know what your trigger is. For me, I clench my teeth when I’m upset, so I know when I’m starting to do that, I need to find my out. What is my out?
When I have babies, I’m going to put them in their crib, in their bassinet, in their safe place, and I’m going to go get a drink of cold water and re-assess the situation from away from the crying baby,” said Jamie.
“It is a big problem. The consequences of what can happen to these kids is phenomenal. And the part that is so concerning to us is that it is preventable,” said Christine Baker, the protection coordinator of the Protection Advocacy & Outreach Program at Seattle Children’s.
Baker actively educates parents and caregivers about what works with newborns when they get to that point where nothing seems to soothe an endless episode of crying.
“Nothing you can do will work. The best thing to do in those situations is set your baby down in a safe place a crib with no bumpers, no blankets. Set them down on their back and walk away. I tell families that we have never had a baby come in here who got sick or injured from crying. It doesn’t happen.
Your baby will not get hurt. Set them down and walk away until you can take a deep breath and have some composure to go back,” said Baker.
Christine and Jamie both point out that everyone has a role to play. They say that when we board an airplane and have that personal thought that we hope we’re not sitting next to the mom with the baby, that shows the lack of support that needs to be there when a caretaker reaches their limit of patience.
“All of those things weigh on you and as a parent. In the moment when you're frustrated, or you're tired or having stress with your partner or your baby...And the person who won’t stop glaring at you about your baby crying when you’re out at 5 o’clock trying to get groceries, all these things come into play. So, it’s as a society and as a community, supporting parents rather than criticizing them,” says Baker.
"Also, having the awkward but necessary conversation with a child care provider or family member is something you will learn to finesse," adds Baker. "It can be as simple as saying, I got this info at the hospital, have you heard about this period of crying, people use to call it colic. There’s a lot of information about this period of crying, some say it’s like the fourth trimester, most babies have it just in varying degrees...It’s a hard thing to talk about, without the person feeling defensive."
“One of the things that I wished most is that she would have just called my husband. Chris was just five minutes from her. He could have left work and gone and picked up the kids,” said Jamie.
But that’s not what happened, and now the entire family accepts Colby’s role in this community, to say no to child abuse.
And everyone plays their part in the home, from a trumpet solo by brother Donovan to an afternoon kiss from sister Jewel, before she reads his favorite book “Dragons Love Tacos.” This family has purpose and Colby has a place.
Because they have a plan.
According to the Idaho Children's Trust Fund, up to 50 percent of adult caregivers and parents said they didn't know shaking a baby could have such terrible effects.