Abusive head trauma & ICON – advice & resources for all

Abusive head trauma is a preventable and severe form of physical child abuse.

Trauma may result from shaking an infant by their shoulders, arms, or legs; or from impact (with or without shaking) caused by throwing or hitting a child. The resulting whiplash effect can cause fractures or result in bleeding in the infant’s brain.

Playful interaction with an infant, such as bouncing a baby on the lap or tossing the baby up in the air, won’t cause the injuries associated with abusive head trauma. Instead, these injuries often happen when someone shakes the baby out of frustration or anger.

Nearly all victims of abusive head trauma suffer serious health consequences and at least one of every four babies who are violently shaken dies  – babies (newborn to 4 months) are at greatest risk of injury from shaking.  Inconsolable crying is a primary trigger for shaking a baby.

You should never shake a baby under any circumstances. Shaking a baby is a serious and deliberate form of abuse.

Call 999 right away if you believe that your baby or another baby is a victim of abusive head trauma. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment.

Following a number of incidents in Manchester, and across the country, where young babies have been the victim of abusive head trauma, Manchester Safeguarding Partnership commissioned the roll-out of ICON programme across the city.

This programme – Babies Cry, You Can Cope is designed to help support families to care for their babies safely.

ICON programme

ICON is a programme aimed at helping parents and carers with young babies to cope with infant crying.

Most babies start to cry more frequently at about two weeks of age, with crying becoming more frequent and longer lasting during the next few weeks and reaching a peak at six to eight weeks. The ICON programme offers the support to let parents and carers know that this behaviour is completely normal and that they are not alone in dealing with this situation. It is completely natural for babies to cry and it is important to remember that this will stop. After approximately eight weeks babies start to cry less and less each week.

ICON provides the important messages below on how to cope with a crying baby:

IInfant crying is normal and it will stop

CComfort methods can sometimes soothe the baby and the crying will stop

O – It’s OK to walk away if you have checked baby is safe & the crying is getting to you – after a few minutes when you are feeling calm, go back and check on baby

NNever, ever shake or hurt a baby; it can cause lasting brain damage or death.

Find out more about this programme on the ICON website at iconcope.org

Resources for practitioners 

All practitioners can play a key role in reinforcing prevention through helping people understand the dangers of violently shaking a baby, the risk factors and the triggers for it, and ways to lessen the load on stressed out parents and caregivers.

The ICON programme is an evidence based programme consisting of a series of brief ‘touch point’ interventions that reinforce the simple message making up the ICON acronym.

Practitioner resources:

Other useful resources available include:

Support for parents and carers

Abusive head trauma is preventable. Parents or carers can avoid harming their baby by not shaking them under any circumstances.

It is common to become frustrated when a baby will not stop crying – at some point most parents or carers will need reassurance, from their family or a practitioner, that crying is a normal behaviour in infants, and shaking is never the right response.

iconcope.org/parentsadvice – parents should be reassured that infant crying is normal and it will stop!

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