Abuse of babies is up by a fifth during Covid crisis, Ofsted says

Recent figures from Ofsted tragically show what we all feared would happen – abuse to babies under one year has risen by one fifth from the same point last year.  This includes babies who have been shaken.

We know that families struggle to cope more with their children at times of financial hardship, stress and isolation and COVID has brought all of those things to many families’ front doors. 

ICON: Babies cry, you can cope is a programme that is spreading throughout the country, designed to help parents cope with a crying baby and by doing so, help prevent Abusive Head Trauma which we know is often the trigger for a parent/carer to lose control and shake their baby potentially causing brain injury, blindness, bony injuries and sometimes death. 

The ICON programme was developed following my WCMT Fellowship to USA and Canada in 2016 exploring the different prevention programmes that run there.

ICON stands for:

Infant crying is normal and the crying will stop.

Comfort methods will sometimes help and the crying will stop.

Ok to walk away, if the baby is safe and the crying is getting to you.

Never ever shake or hurt a baby.

This simple message is delivered through a series of light ‘touchpoints’ within the first 8 weeks of a baby’s life via professionals including Midwives, Health Visitors and GPs.

ICON was first piloted in 2018 and has been taken up by Clinical Commissioning Groups and Local Authorities throughout England since then.  More recently NHS England/Improvement for the North and also for the Midlands, have commissioned ICON for all of their respective regions.

At the beginning of the first lockdown, ICON started an intensive social media campaign recognising the likelihood of increased pressures in families and the increased risk to babies under one.  I was supported in this by the award of a WCMT Activate Fund which has had a significant impact on our ability to undertake this work. 

 NHSE/I included the ICON as part of its COVID 19 emergency planning arrangements.  All maternity units throughout the country were asked to implement the hospital based element of ICON as this is the best time to capture men, even with the restricted visiting arrangements.  A recent evaluation of these arrangements has found that about half of maternity units managed to implement ICON and deliver the message and leaflet to both parents in under 10 minutes.

This second lockdown will bring even more of that toxic combination of stress, hardship and isolation.  Thankfully, vital resources like health visiting are not being redeployed this time.  Now, more than ever, families with babies need the help and support of professionals.  ICON is a fundamental part of that support and is helping parents cope. We must ensure babies do not become hidden during this time, that parents are allowed to say they are struggling and be reassured that babies cry, they CAN cope.