Great Britain

Darlington woman's shaken baby prevention programme rolled out across NHS, helping new parents in lockdown

A WOMAN who created a prevention programme to stop abusive head trauma in babies has been awarded a grant to expand its reach after concerns around stress management of parents at home in lockdown.

Darlington-based child protection expert Suzanne Smith, who works for the Disclosure and Barring Service, has been awarded a grant from the Winston Churchill Trust’s new Activate Fund to expand ICON, a prevention programme to stop Shaken Baby Syndrome.

The 57-year-old is one of only seven people nationwide to receive this award.

ICON is a light-touch programme aimed reaching men, as research shows 70 per cent of babies who are shaken are done so by men.

Parents are first introduced to ICON after a baby's birth, and are then reminded in routine midwife and GP appointments.

Around 18-25 per cent of under-ones shaken this way will die from their injuries, while up to 80 per cent of survivors will be left with cognitive and neurological impairments and problems to their hearing and sight.

As the biggest trigger for shaking babies is crying, ICON works to educate parents or carers on expected increases and coping strategies. For example, a baby's crying will peak at six to eight weeks.

Mrs Smith said: "Parents wonder why baby is crying more and panic looking for a solution, but a lot of time it's just normal and there's nothing we can do to stop them. What worked yesterday may not work today.

"We have all been in the situation where we got annoyed at a baby crying. So we're trying to remind people that it's okay to walk away, after checking baby is safe, and breathe."

The programme is currently the only one of its kind in the UK, with Northern hospital trusts all set to roll it out after already being commissioned in Tees Valley.

As part of NHS England’s Covid-19 emergency planning arrangements, the first stage of part of the programme has been rolled out nationally to all maternity units, in recognition of the extra stress that families are under during lockdown but Mrs Smith wants to expand it further.

The Activate grant has enabled her to evaluate its effectiveness during the pandemic, hire a coordinator to manage the project and expand its social media reach, which has proved successful for engaging men.

ICON is an acronym, reminding people that infant crying is normal, comforting methods can help, it’s okay to walk away and to never shake a baby.

"This award is vital in taking ICON to the next level. It will help ensure the programme is properly supported so that it will make a maximum impact, and it will support the measurement of that impact," Mrs Smith added.

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