Caregivers Often Find Themselves in Quicksand, Article Says

Persons caring for infants later found to have brain injuries can get themselves in trouble when they make repeated efforts to provide useful information to doctors. The more times they search their recollections, the more they look guilty to investigators. So says a recent critique of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The article, “Shaken Baby Syndrome, Abusive Head Trauma, and Actual Innocence: Getting it Right,” by Findley, Barnes, Moran, and Squier, appears in the Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy.

A parent who brings a child for emergency medical attention will be asked to report what happened to the child. Since the parent is probably not medically trained, he won’t know what facts are most important concerning a brain injury. He may omit relevant details. Adding details later, though, can lead to the parent’s wrongful prosecution for child assault, according to the article:

Medical personnel and police often insist that the initial history cannot account for the injuries and pressure the caretaker to search his or her memories for additional details or other possible explanations. When the caretaker attempts to comply, however, any new details or possible explanations are viewed as a “changing story” and confirmation of abuse. Often, this is a circle from which there is no escape.

In its most acute form, this kind of interrogation of a caregiver can coerce him falsely to confess he injured his child. This happened in Aleman v. Village of Hanover Park, a case I reported here.

Physicians who question the scientific basis of Shaken Baby Syndrome come under attack, too. According to footnote 53 of the article, they “are routinely accused of incompetence, greed, indifference to child abuse and, more recently, of possibly having histrionic/borderline personality disorders.” The article says such attacks hinder scientific progress and calls for them to stop:

New ideas and a willingness to question traditional understandings are a precondition to scientific progress. [O]ur commitment to “getting it right” requires that we put aside our preconceptions and consider new ideas, including those contrary to our most cherished beliefs.

The article identifies recent conferences at which professionals with opposing views have been able to speak civilly with each other and to find areas of agreement. This, the article says, is an important step toward resolving the SBS debate.