In most cases of shaken baby syndrome, there aren’t necessarily signs that the perpetrator would be capable of such actions, says an expert on the problem.

“It can be anybody. We’ve seen teenage baby sitters that have adult-size strength. We’ve seen grandmothers who are watching children do this — fathers, mothers,” said Amy Wicks, an information and research specialist with the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome in Utah. “You see it across all socioeconomic levels. You see it across all education levels. Black, white, brown — everybody — is capable of doing it.”

When a perpetrator provides a reason for the abuse, it is often frustration over a crying child, who is usually less than a year old and most commonly under 6 months old, Wicks said.

Other triggers are difficulties with toilet training, perceived misbehavior and external stressors. Some research indicates that shaken baby syndrome has increased since the recession, she said.

Shaking can stun a child and stop the crying, creating a reinforcing behavior for the perpetrator, Wicks said.

Advocates urge caregivers who get frustrated to put the baby in a safe place and take a break.

“You can’t hurt what’s not in your arms,” said Pamela Belisle, who founded the Don’t Shake Jake campaign in Maine after her infant son was shaken to death by his babysitter in 1998.

The case of 2½-month-old Ethan Henderson appears to be a classic example of shaken baby syndrome to Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, a pediatrician at University Health Care for Kids, a group practice in Portland. The infant’s father, Gordon Collins-Faunce, 23, of Arundel has been charged with murder in his death.

The case involves a suspect who is a young parent who reportedly was abused as a child, Pezzullo noted. “A lot of times, it seems young adults with that background have a pretty low threshold for frustration with children,” he said.

Physicians are required to report suspected child abuse.

Resources for parents are available through agencies such as Opportunity Alliance in Cumberland County, Advocates for Children in Androscoggin County and the Parent Resource Center in York County, where Belisle is executive director.

Belisle’s agency offers a practical parenting series that covers topics such as communication, self-esteem and stress management. It also includes a video on shaken baby prevention that features Belisle and her husband.

A prevention program called the “Period of Purple Crying” offers materials through hospitals statewide.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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