Knitters preventing child abuse one tiny purple hat at a time

SEATTLE -- All year long volunteers have been busy knitting thousands of tiny purple hats they hope will save babies' lives. Seattle Children's Hospital collected 3,600 hats and distributed them this month to hospitals throughout the state to prevent child abuse by reminding parents crying is normal.

The project is part of the Period of PURPLE Crying, a training program for parents created by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome after abusive, head-trauma injuries skyrocketed in 2008. Seattle Children's admitted three times as many infants with shaken baby syndrome that year compared to 2007.

"Preventing child abuse is always on our minds at this hospital," said Amy Owens, senior program coordinator of the Seattle Children's Protection, Advocacy and Outreach Program. "When we saw this significant spike, it moved it even higher up on the list of concerns."

Research shows crying is the number-one reason parents or caregivers shake a baby. Studies have also demonstrated when parents understand the normal pattern of infant crying and learn coping skills, it significantly reduces the likelihood a child will be shaken or abused.

For five years Owens' team has distributed PURPLE's educational materials to parents throughout the state. The goal is to let parents know crying is a normal part of child development and sometimes no amount of soothing can stop it.

"Newborns can cry quite a bit in first four months," Owens said. "Parents who are informed from the start are better equipped to deal with it. A fussy baby can be frustrating for parents doing the very best they can to soothe, but there are times there just isn't anything the parent can do to stop the crying."

Over the last three years, Seattle Children's has tried to keep these lessons about crying on the minds of parents with a reminder on babies' tiny heads.

Click for Babies is a national program in which volunteers knit purple hats for infants throughout the year. Seattle Children's distributes the hats throughout Washington hospitals during November.

Owens said she hopes the hats will help keep babies safe and out of the hospital.

"Anything we can do during those critical first six months of life when infants at their most vulnerable to remind [parents] that 'This is a difficult time but you're going to get through it, and if you get frustrated put your baby down in a crib and take a break.'"

Volunteers who want to knit hats for Seattle Children's Hospital should contact the Protection, Advocacy and Outreach Program.