A recent case of alleged abuse of an infant is shining renewed light on an increasing problem, according to Fairfield County protection advocates.

A recent case of alleged abuse of an infant is shining renewed light on an increasing problem, according to Fairfield County protection advocates.

On March 10, 25-year-old Jeremy Snyder of Pickerington was charged with two counts of felonious assault and two counts of felony child endangering involving his 3-month-old daughter. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been indicted in the case. He is being held on $50,000 bond.

The baby was treated at Nationwide Children's Hospital, where she was diagnosed with three fractured ribs,"substantial" hematoma and bleeding behind her eyes.

Rich Bowlen, director of Fairfield County Child Protective Services, said her injuries were consistent with shaken-baby syndrome.

Local protection advocates said the alleged incident is another example of an alarming trend.

Officials at the county agency and at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus said they have seen an uptick in the number of abuse cases against infants and young children in the past three years.

According to Karen Days, president of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence and interim president of Nationwide Children's Hospital's Center for Child and Family Advocacy, deaths from child abuse seen at her hospital more than doubled from 2007 to 2008, and the pattern continued in the first six months of 2009 - the most recent timeframe for which statistics are available.

"At Nationwide Children's Hospital, deaths from child abuse went from five in 2007 to 12 in 2008," Days said. "In the beginning of 2009, the first six months, there was an additional 15-percent increase in deaths from child abuse."

Days said head trauma cases among children treated at Children's soared from 24 in 2007 to 43 in 2008.

In Fairfield County, cases involving shaken-baby syndrome - injuries an infant suffers when his or her brain is forcibly rolled around the skull cavity, causing pressure due to blood settling in the skull - also are on the rise.

"Since the end of February - so in less than a month's time - we've had four shaken-baby referrals," Bowlen said on March 18. "That's very unusual."

Bowlen said Fairfield County saw an "influx" of shaken-baby cases beginning last summer, when his agency received six such referrals.

The frequency of the incidents might be higher than realized, he said, because abuse calls to protective services initially are coded as simply "abuse" or "neglect."

Still, he said he felt compelled to revitalize a shaken-baby committee to spread the word about the dangers of mishandling children age 7 and younger. Since then, he said, a Lancaster High School journalism class developed a poster to raise awareness about the issue. His agency has increased radio warnings about shaken-baby syndrome and representatives have gone to area prisons and schools to discuss the issue.

"We have to offer other solutions than just telling you not to shake a baby," he said. "People need to know it's OK for the baby to cry and you can let a baby cry itself out.

"Go step out for a moment. Call a neighbor to look after the child for a moment. Turn on some music and take a deep breath."

According to Days, shaken-baby syndrome and child abuse aren't things that affect only certain socio-economic classes or races.

However, she said health officials have discovered a link between the extended slump in the economy and child abuse.

"We have not been able to show a direct correlation between the recession and adult abuse, but we have been able to show a correlation between the recession and abuse of children," she said. "The stress related to the recession, losing jobs, it often manifests into child abuse."

Bowlen said research has found perpetrators most often are male, and they're usually in their early 20s. He also said babies born to drug-dependent mothers typically have a different cry and are "much more difficult to console than a healthy baby."

Days added that children are 50 times more like to die from abuse when they are left in the care of a non-relative.

"There's a stronger risk factor when Mom leaves a child alone in the care of a boyfriend," she said.

Shaken-baby syndrome, in particular, is a serious condition because it can be fatal or have long-term impact on a child, officials said.

Rough handling can cause immediate seizures, vomiting and heart failure, Days said, in addition to ongoing lethargy and breathing difficulties. Such treatment also can keep children's eyes from properly focusing and can lead to permanent conditions, such as cerebral palsy.

"What we do know is one of the most important jobs of an adult is parenting, and unfortunately, we don't have a manual," she said. "There are a lot of triggers.

"People need to know their own triggers and take the necessary steps to seek help, to get respite."

Nationwide Children's Hospital now provides parents of newborns and other infants with pamphlets that attempt to offer advice on everything from "getting to know your new baby," to calming an infant and understanding common crying myths. The brochures also instruct parents to tell others about the dangers of shaking or handling a baby roughly.

Bowlen said his agency has staff members dedicated to education, training and awareness about shaken-baby syndrome. Information is available at (740) 652-7729.

He also noted there is a Fairfield County hotline for caregivers who need assistance with children at (740) 687-TALK (8255), or by calling the county's general information line at 2-1-1.