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Preventing abusive head trauma: can educating parents reduce the incidence?


Abusive head trauma (AHT) is the most lethal form of child abuse; preventing AHT should be a national priority, but research into this area is woefully underfunded. Prevention programs have primarily focused on universal parent education during the neonatal period, a time when parents are a captive audience of the health care establishment whose focus is on the needs of their newborn infant, and who will soon be exposed to the frustration and anger of infant crying. Research has suggested a strong causal link between infant crying and AHT, and parents — particularly fathers and father figures — have been identified as the most common perpetrators of AHT. A number of studies have suggested that educating parents during the postnatal period about the normalcy of inconsolable infant crying and its evolution over the first several months of postnatal life improves parental knowledge about infant crying and a number of positive parenting behaviors, and decreases emergency room visits for crying. In 1998, we began a pilot program in Upstate New York near Buffalo that led to a 47% reduction in AHT incidence. Similar studies have demonstrated 35–75% reductions in incidence, which has led to enthusiasm for this approach to preventing AHT. We, as well as another group, have enacted statewide programs in Pennsylvania and North Carolina; unfortunately, these two large statewide replication trials failed to demonstrate any impact of such an intervention on AHT rates. Serial messages for parents, provided repeatedly over the period of greatest risk for AHT, might be another avenue of research.

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Funding was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Correspondence to Mark S. Dias.

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Dias, M.S., Cappos, K.M., Rottmund, C.M. et al. Preventing abusive head trauma: can educating parents reduce the incidence?. Pediatr Radiol 51, 1093–1096 (2021).

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