Universal prevention programs that target entire populations have evolved in recent decades, said Deborah Daro, Chapin Hall Senior Research Fellow at the University of Chicago. Beginning in the 1960s, researchers moved from simply trying to raise awareness to developing a large number of programs. As their understanding evolved, the focus of programs narrowed to early developmental stages, with a growing emphasis on home-based interventions to maximize impact when children are young. In the past few years, universal prevention programs have emphasized infrastructure and community development, the strengthening of existing programs, and a shift toward evidence-based models.

Shaken Baby Syndrome1

A good example of recent trends in intervention efforts is the variety of programs developed to prevent shaken baby syndrome, said Daro. Public awareness and community engagement have been cornerstones of efforts in this area. In addition, recent efforts have concentrated awareness programs on very specific behaviors.

Daro listed several well-known programs, including the Central Massachusetts Shaken Baby Syndrome Campaign, a web-based community engagement program, and a hospital-based initiative at Pennsylvania State University’s Hershey Medical Center. One common pathway used by these programs is universal education for new parents on coping skills and parenting practices, often including print or video media. In addition, the programs encourage parents to share what they have learned with others who care for their infants, thus expanding the reach of the curriculum.

Daro particularly emphasized the role of parents as spokespersons for these programs. Two-way communication between parents and broader networks, she said, is a major factor in the education of parents and can play a huge role in disseminating positive parenting skills and approaches. It also is important to educate professionals and first responders, who see families when children are very young. In this way, public and professional education work in concert to improve outcomes.


1In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recommending that the term abusive head trauma be used instead of shaken baby syndrome to reflect that an injury to the head and brain may be caused by a variety of mechanisms, including shaking and blunt impact (Christian et al., 2009).

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