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Lynn Sheets, MD, medical director of child advocacy and protective services at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

New infant abuse prevention bill based on work of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin doctor

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin announced a new bill on April 3 that would help reduce cases of infant abuse in the United States. This bill — the Early Detection to Stop Infant Abuse and Prevent Fatalities Act — is inspired by and based on the work of Lynn Sheets, MD, medical director of child advocacy and protective services at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Dr. Sheets, who is a national leader in child abuse prevention, has been working with Senator Baldwin for the last several months on crafting the bill.

This bill would:

  • Develop, implement or expand training to assist medical professionals in identifying and responding to injuries that suggest potential abuse in infants
  • Develop protocols and policies that improve communication and coordination between mandatory reporters and child protective services
  • Raise awareness about the significance and identification of such injuries among health professionals, professionals caring for children, child protective services staff and the public.

“Keeping kids healthy and safe needs to be our aim, not treating injuries after they happen or mourning the loss of a life taken too soon. This bill would help us do that. This legislation could significantly improve early recognition and intervention efforts to protect vulnerable infants and will help prevent many cases of abuse and related fatalities,” said Dr. Lynn Sheets, medical director of child advocacy and protective services, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. “Unfortunately, after decades of evaluating abused infants, I have found there were reports of minor suspicious injuries before more serious harm was done. We have used this information in Wisconsin to help prevent further tragedies and applaud Senator Baldwin’s leadership to expand these efforts.”

The bill has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, with U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, MD, of Louisiana, and U.S. Representatives Kim Schrier, MD, of Washington and Steve Stivers of Ohio joining Baldwin as co-sponsors.

The Early Detection to Stop Infant Abuse and Prevent Fatalities Act amends the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to develop new and expanded trainings and best practices to support medical and child welfare professionals in identifying and responding to signs of potential abuse in infants under 7 months.

“We must do everything we can to help prevent child abuse and protect the most vulnerable in our country,” said Baldwin in a press release announcing the bill. “This commonsense proposal will make sure that medical providers and child welfare professionals have the tools they need to recognize early warning signs of abuse in infants, so they can step in and save lives.”

The bill also has the support from a number of local and national children’s health organizations, including the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“As pediatricians, our number one priority is to keep children healthy and safe. There is clear evidence that certain injuries can be signs of potential child abuse, and require a thorough evaluation. When these injuries go unrecognized, it can lead to tragic consequences for children who are victims of abuse,” said Kyle Yasuda, MD, FAAP, president, American Academy of Pediatrics, when the bill was announced. “The Early Detection to Stop Infant Abuse and Prevent Fatalities Act supports evidence-based approaches to improve our ability to identify these injuries and protect children from harm. The AAP applauds Senator Baldwin, Senator Cassidy, Representative Schrier, and Representative Stivers for their bipartisan leadership in sponsoring this important legislation, and we urge Congress to advance this policy without delay.”

According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, an estimated 1,720 children died from abuse or neglect in the United States in fiscal year 2017. Seventy-two percent of child fatalities involved children younger than 3, and 50 percent involved infants younger than 1. Multiple studies have found that relatively minor, visible injuries in young infants, including bruising and intraoral injuries, are often indicators of abuse. Such injuries in infants are commonly overlooked by medical providers, caregivers and child welfare professionals because they seem trivial. Without early intervention, physical abuse can escalate, resulting in severe injuries or even fatalities.

The bill’s sponsors will be working to get the legislation incorporated into the reauthorization of CAPTA, which Congress is set to consider later this year.