Protecting infants from shaken baby syndrome: Suzanne Smith's story

Published: 30 Jun 2020

Author: Suzanne Smith
Protecting infants from shaken baby syndrome: Suzanne Smith's story

This has been an exciting year for child protection expert Suzanne Smith. Her programme for preventing abusive head trauma among infants has spread to 12 regions across the UK and received media attention nationwide.

"I had read and written about prevention programmes in USA and Canada, but the opportunity given to me by WCMT to actually see these programmes in action was invaluable." - Suzanne Smith, Fellow

Shaken baby syndrome occurs when a child up to 4 years of age is shaken violently, typically by a parent or carer, which causes brain damage and can lead to death. The most common trigger for this is when a child cries.

In her previous role as Assistant Director of Nursing at Pennine NHS Trust, Suzanne saw a number of these cases at first hand. She realised that more needed to be done to raise awareness of shaken baby syndrome and help parents to cope. Her 2016 Fellowship to the USA and Canada, to see programmes that are successfully reducing the level of abusive head trauma in infants, inspired Suzanne to develop her own pioneering programme in the UK.

On her return, Suzanne set up a national steering group of healthcare professionals to develop the first ever co-ordinated UK programme aimed at preventing cases of shaken baby syndrome. As such, ‘ICON: Babies Cry, You Can Cope’ was launched in Hampshire in September 2018. ICON acts as a mnemonic and provides a simple four-point message - that infant crying is normal, comfort methods can help, it’s okay to walk away for a while if the baby is safe, and you should never shake or hurt a baby.

This message is delivered to parents via GPs, midwives and healthcare professionals, at several specific points before and after the birth of a child. Suzanne worked collaboratively with colleagues across the country to create educational materials for health professionals, as well as videos, literature and a website with information and help for parents.

Since its launch, ICON has spread to 12 different areas across the UK, including Lancashire, Gloucestershire, Southampton, Sussex, York and North Yorkshire, with further areas keen to take on the programme. It has been extremely well received, with many positive testimonials from parents and healthcare professionals. ICON was also the subject of a BBC documentary and online article in 2019 in which Suzanne was interviewed, raising national awareness of the programme.

Suzanne said: “Preventing abusive head trauma has been a passion of mine since the 1990s. I had read and written about prevention programmes in USA and Canada, but the opportunity given to me by WCMT to actually see these programmes in action was invaluable. It gave me the personal and professional insight I needed to take all the best elements of the prevention programmes and weave them into something that would work in the UK. I am enormously proud of the way ICON is being embraced by professionals across the country. More than that, I am proud of the difference it is making to parents. If ICON prevents one death from AHT then I will have achieved my aim.”

View Suzanne's profile

Fellows' blogs