Sandy Owen at the Benton-Franklin Health District started seeing red flags when she read about several incidents of Tri-City babies who had head injuries from being shaken.
She began researching statistics and discovered something that shocked her into action -- the rate of abusive head trauma for infants in Benton and Franklin counties is about eight times the national average.
About 17 children under the age of 1 experience abusive head trauma per 100,000 children of that age nationwide, she said.
When Owen took the number of incidents in Benton and Franklin counties this year and converted that into a rate, it came out to 144 children per 100,000.
"This is not normal -- seeing this many cases," Owen told the Benton-Franklin Health Board this week. "All of this is 100 percent preventable. These are injuries that don't happen by accident."
Owen and the other public health nurses at the health district have spearheaded the formation of a local task force to prevent head trauma from child abuse and implement a program called Period of PURPLE Crying that helps parents better understand how to cope with the frustrations of an infant who won't stop crying.
"We wanted to find a solution because it is unacceptable to have 144 cases per 100,000," Owen said.
The local numbers come on the heels of a national study published this week showing incidents of child abuse and shaken baby cases are on the rise since the recession began in late 2008.
The study looked at children in 74 counties in four states, and found a 65 percent increase in abusive head trauma cases compared with pre-recession rates.
The local task force includes representatives from all three Tri-City hospitals, the healthdistrict, Children's Administration, the early learning and child care communities, teen parent programs, Sexual Assault Response Center, Mid-Columbia Library and police agencies.
The goal is to distribute DVDs and information to all new parents about how to deal with infant crying and reduce the incidents of babies being shaken by frustrated parents.
Some tactics for coping with crying babies include carrying, comforting, walking and talking with the baby -- and it's OK for a frustrated parent to walk away from the baby as long as the baby is in a safe place, according to the Period of PURPLE Crying program.
Owen said giving parents better coping tools should help reduce the rates of shaken baby syndrome.
"I still firmly believe every parent intends to be the best parent they can be," she said.
As part of the task force's efforts, Lourdes Medical Center is having a "Click For Babies" campaign, asking knitters to make purple caps for newborn babies to help raise awareness about the Period of PURPLE Crying project.
Caps should be sent by Oct. 26 to Teriesa Pleyoat Lourdes, 520 N. Fourth Ave., Pasco.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org