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Low prosecution rate in 'shaken baby' cases -

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ELEANOR HALL: Now to a report that suggests that "Shaken Baby Syndrome" is not being taken
seriously by authorities.

A study has found that fewer than half of the people who inflict head injuries on children are
charged and almost all had confessed to their crime.

Annie Guest reports.

ANNIE GUEST: When a six-week-old baby was taken to hospital with head injuries, often known as
Shaken Baby Syndrome, he became the first child protection case seen by Sydney doctor Amanda
Stephens.

Later the baby went home with his family.

At the age of two he was dead from multiple injuries.

What she saw prompted Dr Stephens to find out more and today she's releasing a study that concludes
few people are prosecuted over Shaken Baby Syndrome.

AMANDA STEPHENS: The major reason is that it's difficult to identify the perpetrator in many cases.

ANNIE GUEST: She says families generally close ranks after incidents of what doctors call
non-accidental head injuries.

Dr Stephens studied 68 children treated by the child protection unit at the Children's Hospital at
Westmead in Sydney.

Prosecutions were launched in only 27 cases - less than half. Twenty-three were convicted of crimes
ranging from neglect to murder and almost all had confessed.

And the secrecy surrounding most cases poses other challenges for authorities.

AMANDA STEPHENS: Because if you don't know who did it and you are not able to sort of make that
decision, it can be very hard to decide whether that child should be returned to the family or
whether they should be removed because obviously removing children results in risks as well because
you are sticking them in foster care etc.

ANNIE GUEST: The children studied by Dr Stephens were treated between 1997 and 2005. A few years on
all of those she was able to trace had problems ranging from blindness to mild developmental delay.

But Dr Stephens does not believe greater prosecutions would help reduce the incidence of Shaken
Baby Syndrome.

AMANDA STEPHENS: In many cases it is possible to work particularly with the non-offending parent to
try to keep that child within the family and to give that family support.

ANNIE GUEST: Dr Stephens' position is endorsed by the Chairman of the Abused Child Foundation Dr
David Wood.

He's also the head of paediatrics at Brisbane's Mater Children's Hospital.

DAVID WOOD: Whether you prosecute to raise the profile of child abuse and its adverse consequences
or you really just try to improve the community's awareness that child abuse is everybody's
business, then it becomes everybody's business to step in and help a family that is having
difficulties.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dr David Wood ending that report from Annie Guest in Brisbane.