Recent child abuse cases have two things in common: Frustrated dads and crying babies

INDIANAPOLIS -- “This baby’s gonna do what this baby’s gonna do,” Brian Carter tells a class of men at Marion County Jail II Monday morning. Specifically, he says, the baby’s going to cry.

Carter, who serves as director for Dads Inc. in Indianapolis, visits male inmates at the jail twice a month to talk about fatherhood. On Monday, more than a dozen inmates signed up to listen to him teach a SafeTots class.

All of the men have kids. Five raise their hands when Carter asks who has an infant at home. Three more say they have toddlers.

That’s a critical age, and one Carter spends the latter half of his time Monday talking about.

A new study released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Health found that child abuse deaths are on the rise nationally. Most of that increase was led by two states: Texas and Indiana. In the latter, child fatalities more than doubled in fiscal year 2016.

In the last several weeks, prosecutors have filed serious child abuse charges against at least four men accused of injuring infants. In one case, 23-year-old Orlando Mota is accused of injuring his 1-month-old son Damian so severely the infant eventually died. In another case, 26-year-old Kyle Rice reportedly admitted to police he crushed his infant foster daughter’s hands out of frustration.

READ MORE | Father accused of breaking infant daughter’s leg in anger | Autopsy rules infant’s death a homicide; police say father squeezed baby until ribs fractured | Muncie man facing felony charges after infant suffers brain bleeding from ‘violent’ shaking | Infant found with as many as 35 fractured bones; foster father charged with abuse

What all the cases have in common is fathers accused of hurting their infants because the children wouldn’t stop crying.

Crying, though, is what babies do. Carter tries to get that into his students’ heads with a simple initialism: “ABC. All babies cry.”

That’s the same message new parents hear before leaving Methodist Hospital, according to Dr. Emily Scott, medical director of well newborn care at the hospital.

“We know that all babies cry and that is normal,” Scott said. “Crying typically starts about 2 weeks of age and can reach a peak at about 3 months, but can continue up through about 4-to-5 months. Healthy babies can cry up to five hours a day, and that’s something that parents need to know when they’re bringing their baby home from the hospital.”

An inconsolably crying baby used to be known as a “colicky” baby. Scott says pediatricians have moved away from colic, because it sounds like a medical condition, and toward referring to that stage in a baby’s life as PURPLE Crying, which stands for:

  • Peak of Crying
  • Unexpected
  • Resists Soothing
  • Pain-Like Face
  • Long Lasting
  • Evening

It’s during those periods of inconsolable crying that, Scott says, infants are most likely to be injured by their parents.

“The number one reason why parents hurt their baby is because of crying that they can’t control,” she said. “It’s normal for parents to be frustrated by their baby crying and not feeling like they can stop it.”

Scott says Methodist gives parents much the same advice that Carter teaches in his class: how to soothe the baby – and how to deal with a baby that can’t be soothed.

“Sometimes, despite all their best efforts, that baby is still going to cry,” Scott said. “It’s OK for them to leave their baby in a safe place in their house. Put their baby on their back in their empty crib. It’s OK for the parents to walk away and take a break for a little bit. Let the parent do some self-care, read a book, listen to music. Come back and check on the baby every 10-15 minutes. As long as the baby is in a safe place and its needs have been met, its OK to let the baby cry while you take a break. That doesn’t make you a bad parent.”

In Carter’s class, students have the same discussion while the pass around a life-sized baby doll. While they do, Carter plays a loud audio file of a baby crying.

One of his students, Kristopher Glover, is a practiced hand at soothing babies. He has six kids himself, ranging from 18 to 6. Monday’s class – not his first time through the SafeTots program – comes just five days before he gets out.

“I got a lotta time I’ve got to make up for,” Glover said. “But I’m up to that.”

For Glover, the sound of a baby crying was welcome. He misses his kids. But it can be maddening when it continues for hours on end. If parents don’t know how to handle their frustrations, the consequences can be devastating.

“If that parent, in that one moment of frustration, takes the baby and says, ‘Stop it baby,’ and shakes the baby a little bit too hard, that can cause serious damage to the baby,” Scott said. “I firmly believe that no parent intends to shake their baby, but sometimes that frustration just gets the better of people and we have really bad outcomes from that.”

For those parents who are right in the middle of the PURPLE Crying period, Scott has a message of hope: “It’s normal. And there’s an end in sight.”

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