Photo by Les Stukenberg.
“Never shake a baby.”
It might seem like obvious advice, but for those who work at preventing child abuse, the words bear repeating.
“We all go into parenthood thinking ‘I got this,’” said Nicole Valdez, infant mental health specialist, and the statewide coordinator of Never Shake a Baby Arizona.
It is common for new parents to dismiss the risk of shaken-baby syndrome, Valdez says, with an “It’ll never happen to me” attitude.
But it does happen to thousands of new parents. Shaken-baby syndrome is a chief cause of death for babies 8 months old and younger, according to a Prevent Child Abuse Arizona educational video.
To combat that statistic, the Never Shake a Baby program works to train hospital nurses to train new parents, and ultimately touches tens of thousands of newborns in Arizona.
Still, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona Executive Director Rebecca Ruffner says it is sometimes difficult to impress upon policy makers the importance of such prevention programs.
“There’s never enough money for prevention, because public funds always go to the critical, driven physical services that policy-makers can see,” Ruffner said recently. “They can’t see prevention, and they don’t fund it much.”
And that is why a contribution valued at about $285,000 from the Don and Luda Soldwedel Charitable Trust will be so crucial to the organization, Ruffner says.
The Soldwedel family bought The Daily Courier in 1958 and today owns many news outlets in Northern Arizona.
Prevent Child Abuse Arizona recently learned that it would be among the organizations to receive a contribution from The Daily Courier’s owners, Ruffner said, adding, “We feel tremendously lucky to have been selected for such a generous family donation.”
Although Prevent Child Abuse Arizona has yet to determine the exact use for the money, Ruffner said it is programs such as the “Never Shake a Baby” campaign that likely would be among the beneficiaries of the contribution.
“We educate over half of all new parents who just had a baby – in the hours before they go home with that baby,” Ruffner said. “What we do is train nurses to help them make a plan for when that baby cries four to five hours.”
While the program is largely funded through a grant, Ruffner said, “The grant we get is never quite enough to cover the cost of the program. It’s always a matter of making ends meet, and grants tend to be focused on specific programs.”
Not only does the organization’s education programs help to prevent child abuse, Ruffner said, but they also can help keep children out of the foster care system.
“They get parenting education,” she said. “That’s why children end up in foster care – parents lack resources, and they lack parenting skills. Then there has to be government intervention.”
The money from The Daily Courier’s owners will “basically allow us to take a step back and look at what we’re doing and where we need additional resources to meet growing needs,” Ruffner said.
Unlike many contributions that come with a specific program in mind, Ruffner said this contribution will allow the organization to decide where the money will be most useful.
“We get donations from time to time, and the most wonderful moment when we get a donation is when it says ‘use it where it will help most,’” Ruffner said, adding, “It’s so rare – I’ve been in non-profit management for 45 years, and only two or three times in all these years have I had opportunity receive something like this.”
Currently, Ruffner said, “We are just in the process of deciding.” In other words, she said, “We don’t have a big-ticket item we’re going to do. What this allows us to do is look ahead down the road, and take a deep breath and have the opportunity to sort through – what is the best use of these dollars to keep kids safe and support parents?”
She expects to make recommendations to the organization’s board, and work with the finance committee. “We have a strategic planning meeting coming up … and we will be looking at the highest and best use of these funds,” Ruffner said.
Noting that Prevent Child Abuse Arizona tends to “live grant to grant,” Ruffner said the board could opt to save a portion of the money for future needs.