When abused babies are like car crashes — journalists need to ask more questions about teen charged with child abuse

This 18-year-old was charged with felony child abuse, according to a story on SunHerald.com, a news site covering the Biloxi-Gulfport, MI, area. Police say he broke the leg of his two-month-old son. “Investigators believe that it was a case of a young parent getting frustrated with a crying baby while trying to change his diaper,” says the story.

The first thing that struck me is that this 18-year-old looks so much younger than 18. His wife is reported as being 16 years old. That’s a red flag. All parents need help with newborns. Young parents who are still children or barely adults usually need even more help.

The second thing that struck me is that if we ever have a shot at preventing childhood trauma, journalists need to report on child abuse the way we learned to report about traffic accidents.

What’s the link between a baby and a car crash? Bear with me. It won’t take long to explain.

Until the 1960s, traffic deaths and injuries were typically blamed on “the nut behind the wheel.” Really. Every single crash, death, and injury was the driver’s fault.

Those were the days when steering columns didn’t collapse, so that in crashes that people walk away from today, steering columns speared drivers through the heart with regularity. Telephone poles were planted only six inches from the edge of the pavement. Many intersections were death traps. Windshields broke into sharp pieces that peeled faces off. Dashboards were hard metal. If you were driving 20 mph, a sudden impact guaranteed that something in the car would injure you. Seat belts? Airbags? No such things.

The car and the road were ignored as contributing to fatalities and injuries. Then, in the 1960s, public health experts and injury control scientists included vehicles and roadways in their analysis of auto deaths and injuries. Since 1975, the U.S. Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) has gathered information about every U.S. vehicle fatality that includes data about the vehicle, the environmental conditions, and the driver.

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