ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Male caregivers are responsible for two-thirds of child deaths and near-fatal injuries in Minnesota, according to a new study.
The Child Mortality Review Board carried out the state-mandated study by researching more than 200 preventable deaths of Minnesota children between 2005 and 2009. In most of them, the children were being cared for by unemployed fathers, stepfathers or boyfriends of the mothers. Half of the incidents involved children less than 1 year old.
A report by Minnesota Public Radio on the study said the most common cause of death was abusive head trauma or shaken baby syndrome. State law requires new parents to watch a video on how vulnerable babies’ brains are to shaking or blunt force before they leave the hospital. And health care providers bring up the topic at every well-baby visit until children are 3 years old.
Many who end up serving as caregivers don’t receive any kind of training, said Erin Sullivan Sutton, assistant commissioner for children and family services for the state Department of Human Services.
“If the person doesn’t have experience caring for infants, that’s not a good situation,” Sullivan Sutton said.
Much of the abuse occurs when adults become frustrated by a child’s crying, feeding, sleeping or toileting problems.
“We see kids are crying because they’re hungry, kids are crying because they have soiled diapers and that crying is what triggers the violence,” Sullivan Sutton said.
Becky Dale, interim director of Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota, said the whole community needs to be educated on what it takes to care for a child.
“It’s a really fast learning curve when you become a parent,” Dale said.
The report didn’t mention child development education before people become parents, and that training should come much earlier, Dale said. Junior high school students should be taught to calm a crying baby and how to arrange a baby’s bedding so as not to smother it, she said.
The study also found that women were more likely to be guilty of child neglect than men.
Fewer families have safe child care options today due to cuts in child care assistance. That’s especially true for caregivers working low-wage jobs. Between 2003 and 2009, child care spending in Minnesota dropped by one-fifth.
Better child care could help, but it won’t totally wipe out the problem, said Marcie Jeffrys, director of policy development for the Children’s Defense Fund.
The report got the attention of child protection workers, who said they’ll add new questions to their risk assessments later this year. They’ll include whether a male is caring for a child under 3 years old alone and if he’s unemployed.
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