But the unfortunate fact is, some mothers and fathers can do permanent damage to their children without realizing.
An educational program, "Keeping Children Safe," is planned for Thursday at the Putnam County Public Library. The program, which is sponsored by Family Support Services, Putnam County Department of Child Services, Putnam County Youth Development Commission, Head Start, Mental Health America of Putnam County, Community Partners and the Greencastle Parks and Recreation Department, is one of several local activities being presented as part of the local and national Child Abuse Prevention Month observance. It will begin at 6 p.m.
One of the focuses on the program will be shaken baby syndrome. Kay Jackson, program manager assistant for Healthy Families, will use a "Mikey Doll," a life-sized shaken baby syndrome simulator.
"I have been here for almost three-and-a-half years trying to get out there and educate people," Jackson said. "There are a lot of stressors that can lead to shaken baby syndrome. I see a lot of new moms who've never even been around a baby. They don't realize they can lose control and actually hurt the baby."
The doll is equipped with accelerometers that measure the force on the brain when it is shaken. LED lights in the doll's clear vinyl head indicate the areas of the brain that are damaged as it is shaken.
The doll was created by Nena Ray, a registered nurse at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. It is now sold and used nationally in educational curriculums.
Ray was also the ThinkFirst program director for the Indianapolis Neurosurgical Group and Clarion Health.
According to national statistics, 25 percent of shaken baby syndrome victims die as a result of their injuries. Research shows that the most common baby shakers are men, usually in their 20s, who are the baby's father or the significant other of the baby's mother. Typically, women who shake babies are not mothers -- rather, they are babysitters or caregivers.
Victims of shaking are usually less than 1 year old. Most are younger than six months.
"Many of the people who come to us for services are just unsure they can parent," said Cari Cox of Putnam County Family Support Services. "There is tremendous guilt when they can't calm the baby. They feel inept; like failures. They lose it, they shake the baby and the damage is done."
Longterm effects of shaking can include learning disabilities, motor and cognitive difficulties, cerebral palsy, blindness, paralysis and coma.
The program will also cover topics such as sudden infant death syndrome and basic home safety.