What is DCF Shaken Baby Syndrome in Massachusetts?
Shaken baby syndrome is a serious brain injury for an infant or toddler. It is when someone physically shakes a baby so hard that it causes the child’s brain to bruise, swell, and bleed. Shaking a baby causes their brain to move back and forth inside their skull . This prevents their brain from getting enough oxygen.
In the past, the most common Shaken Baby cases involve children under the age of two. Still, children up to five years of age can suffer from Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Shaken Baby Syndrome cannot happen by accident; shaking a baby is considered an aggressive and intentional act. When a parent or caretaker is responsible for Shaken Baby Syndrome in a child, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families can get involved.
Why does DCF Investigate Shaken Baby Syndrome in Massachusetts?
MA DCF takes allegations of Shaken Baby Syndrome extremely seriously. The Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts investigate all legitimate cases of child abuse (including child physical and child sexual abuse) and child neglect. The Department considers Shaken Baby to be child physical abuse. When someone else shakes the baby and causes Shaken Baby Syndrome, DCF can still make allegations against the child’s parent or caretaker for child neglect.
When DCF accuses parents of Shaken Baby Syndrome, it almost always leads to criminal charges as well. The Department will try to file criminal charges by sending the case to the District Attorney’s office. Then, the District Attorney’s office conducts its separate investigation to determine whether or not the situation deserves criminal punishments or not.
When you are facing a supported Shaken Baby allegations after a DCF 51B investigation, seek help from an experienced DCF lawyer immediately. Do not wait. The legal ramifications are as severe as the injuries found on the child.
Shaking a child is a deliberate act, and it is rare for this to happen by accident. A child cannot suffer from shaken baby syndrome by being bounced in someone’s lap, rough play, falling off the furniture, or jogging and bicycling with a parent. While these activities can pose a risk to children, these are not the same risks as children who suffer from this abusive head trauma.
Why Would Parents Shake their Baby?
Because shaking a child is a deliberate act, it happens when a parent or caregiver is driven to extremes. Adults who face extreme stress from other life factors, compounded with a child who will not stop crying, might act in ways that would generally seem unimaginable to them. Some of these external factors that impact a parent or caregiver’s mental health include:
- Unrealistic expectations of the child (ex. expecting them to sleep at a certain time or be quiet)
- Young or single parenthood
- Domestic violence, unstable family situations
- Abusive relationships
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Inappropriate sexual activities
- Verbal abuse
- A history of mistreatment as a child
What Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome Does DCF Looks For in Massachusetts?
There are many visible and invisible symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Both kinds of symptoms are very serious:
These are some of the visible signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome DCF may be looking for:
- Extreme fussiness or irritability
- Difficulty staying awake, coma
- Breathing problems
- Pale / blue skin
- Poor eating, excessive vomiting
- Bruises on arms or chest
- No smiling or vocalization
- Head/forehead appears larger than usual, soft spot appears to be bulging
- Paralysis, inability to lift
- Inability of eyes to focus or track movement, unequal size of pupils
These are some of the invisible signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome DCF may be looking for:
- Bleeding in the brain and eyes
- Spinal cord damage
- Fractures of the ribs, skull, legs and other bones
DCF works with the child’s pediatrician to find out if these symptoms are present in the child. So, when a doctor reports a diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome to DCF, the Department will most likely support the allegations against you. The doctor is a medical professional who would, at least in DCF’s perspective, know how to identify a shaken baby.
How is Shaken Baby Syndrome Harmful to Children?
There are many long-term effects of Shaken Baby Syndrome. These symptoms are so severe in babies or toddlers because of their lack of size and strength. Babies have weak neck muscles and can struggle to support their heads, heavy in proportion to their body size. Babies have fragile and undeveloped brains, so they are much more prone to brain injuries.
A high risk of death is also associated with these injuries. Those who survive may develop conditions that require lifelong medical care, including Shaken Baby Syndrome symptoms later in life:
- Partial/total blindness
- Hearing impairment
- Developmental delays
- Intellectual disability
- Speech disabilities
- Behavioral issues
- Seizure disorders
- Cerebral palsy
Another key factor regarding why this is so dangerous is the difference in size between the victim and the perpetrator. When a baby is shaken, it is often from a parent or caregiver; a grown adult.
Are There Other Names for This Syndrome?
According to The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), shaken baby syndrome is a specific type of abusive head trauma. Other names for “Shaken baby syndrome” are:
- Abusive head trauma
- Shaken impact syndrome
- Inflicted head injury
- Whiplash shake syndrome.
Can Bouncing a Baby Cause Shaken Baby Syndrome in Massachusetts?
Only the deliberate motion of high-force shaking can lead to the severe symptoms of the shaken baby syndrome. This is why it is nearly always a criminal charge when symptoms happen and are very difficult to disprove when it does in fact occur. DCF may still accuse you of child abuse even when the child’s injuries are not severe enough to escalate to the level of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Most parents bounce or pat their baby to console them from crying, which will not harm the baby. But parents should never, ever shake the baby to get them to stop crying. When bouncing a baby, parents should do it gently and be conscious of the baby’s small size. When a baby has been bounced aggressively, they must receive medical attention by a trusted pediatrician or physician. Understand, however, that if you bring your child into the doctor after bouncing them aggressively, the doctor can call DCF and file a report against you. That is because doctors are mandated to reporters.
How Can A Shaken Baby be Treated in Massachusetts?
When a child shows symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome, their parent should get them medical care immediately to prevent the worst from happening. Most Shaken Baby cases of end up with the worst possible outcome: the child’s death. Upon seeking medical care, doctors will conduct a variety of diagnostic tests to detect injuries such as:
X-rays: used to check for fractures, may find whether a fracture was accidental or purposeful
Eye exam: can show bleeding and other eye injuries
Blood tests: rule out any metabolic or genetic disorders that present symptoms similar to shaken baby syndrome
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): creates detailed images of a child’s brain. MRIS can show bruising, bleeding, and signs of decreased oxygen. (Note: MRIs cannot be performed on a child who is unstable, so they are usually done two to three days after the injury)
Computerized tomography (CT) scan: use x-ray images to provide cross-sectional images of the body, detecting any injuries that need medical care and showing what injuries doctors should prioritize
Depending on what medical professionals may find, and because this involves a brain injury, many cases will need to be monitored in a pediatric ICU. Children who show the most extreme symptoms will need breathing support or surgery.
Should I Find a DCF Lawyer to Help Me With Shaken Baby Allegations?
DCF often does not do their due diligence when investigating allegations. In other words, DCF cuts corners, fails to interview relevant collaterals, does not gather all the necessary documents, and etc. But also, when DCF is accusing you of Shaken Baby Syndrome allegations which are very serious, they probably already have a bad impression of you. They will try to paint you in a negative life try their best to “support” the allegations. Hiring a lawyer will help ensure that DCF does a fair investigation for you.
How Can Parents Prevent These Allegations?
Parents can prevent DCF Shaken Baby allegations in a couple of different ways. They can become more conscious of how vulnerable their child is so they make sure they never do anything aggressive on accident. Or, parents can take parent education classes to better understand the dangers of violently shaking a baby. These classes can also guide parents with stress management tools and better ways to try soothing a crying child, such as taking the baby for a walk, or making sure the baby is fed.
Once DCF accuses a parent of Shaken Baby, it is very hard for the parent and family to deal with, especially when the allegations are false. It is difficult to defend someone who actually did shake a baby. Shaking a baby is almost always a malicious act, done on purpose. It is tough to convince a jury of a competent court or a judge to show sympathy in a circumstance of a shaken baby. This makes it very difficult for lawyers to represent a perpetrator.
When your case goes to court, such as family, probate, or criminal court. Then it will be your word against DCF’s word. Since DCF is considered the expert in child welfare and you are just a parent, the court may take DCF’s side right off the bat. Also, the court can misunderstand your words or take what you say the wrong way. So it is very important to hire representation so that DCF and the court takes you seriously.
How can a DCF Lawyer Help With False Allegations of Shaken Baby Syndrome?
The Department is an agent of the government, with enormous power. They can pick and choose evidence and build a case around even the most bogus allegation. This is why it is crucial to find the right resources to make a strong case of disproving claims.
Anonymous reporters who are out for revenge can lie to DCF and make false claims that a parent was shaking a baby and caused Shaken Baby Syndrome. Even if the report seems completely bogus, it is the Department’s job to take all allegations of child abuse seriously. Then parents have the burden to prove that the injury did not happen. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible without the help of a child welfare expert.
When you hire a lawyer for false Shaken Baby allegations, you will get a plan to get DCF out of your life without you losing your children to foster care. Your lawyer can find and hire the right doctors or medical experts to testify that the Shaken Baby allegations are completely false.
Kevin Seaver is a trusted Massachusetts DCF Lawyer Specialized in DCF since 1991.