Bonnie Armstrong will never forget this call.
It was 1994, and Armstrong was teaching kindergarten when the voice of the school secretary came over the speaker, telling him to come to the office due to an emergency.
“Are you sure?” Armstrong asked.
And in a shaky voice, the secretary simply responded with two words, “Bonnie, run.
Armstrong’s brother-in-law had shaken and beaten his 2.5-month-old daughter, Tiffany, with a baseball bat. Tiffany was flown to Cook Children’s and put on a ventilator – her brain was swollen, sticking out of her skin. When Armstrong reached Tiffany’s side, Armstrong remembers kissing his niece, telling her that “if she was fighting and she was breathing I would bring something good out of something so bad.”
Tiffany did, and today she’s a happy 27-year-old who enjoys volunteering at animal shelters and competing as a Special Olympics athlete. (Her father, Larry David Fox, was convicted of third degree injury to a child and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.)
During this time, Armstrong kept his promise.
Armstrong is the executive director of Fort Worth-based nonprofit The Shaken Baby Alliance, which she co-founded with Kim Kang and Melonie Caster (two mothers whose children also suffered from Shaken Baby Syndrome under the care of of their caregivers) in 1997. The organization focuses on offering support to victims, assisting law enforcement in child abuse cases and investigations, and educating others about preventing abuse.
The alliance’s latest initiative is an education program called COPE, which recently received a $ 300,000 grant from the City of Fort Worth Crime Control and Prevention District to be taught in schools and other community groups across the country. over the next three years. Thanks to Felicia Hernandez, staff member, the program is available in English and Spanish.
COPE is meant to be an easy-to-remember acronym for parents and caregivers dealing with an uncontrollably crying baby: Crying, Overwhelmed, Pause, and Exit. In other words, when a baby is crying and the caregiver is overwhelmed, just take a break and leave the baby alone for a few minutes so that both people can take a moment to calm down.
“A brain injury is forever. Death is eternal. When a baby starts to cry, do the things you know how to do, but just remember that it’s okay to put the baby somewhere safe and go, ”says Armstrong. “No one should feel bad for putting a baby in a safe place and taking a 10 to 15 minute break… It’s good to let a baby cry and be okay with it.”
Armstrong says COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem of child abuse and shaken baby syndrome, with 2020 being their biggest year yet. The Shaken Baby Alliance typically serves an average of 325 to 350 family members of victims per year. In 2020, the alliance served 557; this year it has served 394 at the time of printing.
The holidays are a particularly worrying time of year, according to Armstrong, as cases tend to increase around the week before Thanksgiving and stay high until early January.
The Shaken Baby Alliance is currently looking for volunteers who can help with teaching, administrative work, social media, or other responsibilities. To learn more or get involved, visit shakenbaby.org.