Experts see lessons in Newmarket baby abuse case
NEWMARKET — Following last week’s sentencing of Jose Orta-Santana, who broke bones in his infant son’s body from head to toe while squeezing and punching him, the New Hampshire Children’s Trust has issued a statement urging care during the stressful early months of parenting.
Orta-Santana’s case is far from uncommon, according to Maria Doyle, program director at the trust.
“While most parents do not resort to the harsh and tragic response of harming their baby, many can identify with the frustration of infant crying, which is only compounded by parental exhaustion,” she said.
Orta-Santana received a 10- to 25-year sentence, with an additional 4-20 years to be served concurrently for multiple first-degree assault charges. His attorney, Amy Beaton, described his history of post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders stemming from an abusive childhood as an orphan in Puerto Rico.
According what Orta-Santana said when questioned by police, at the time of the assaults he was suffering from severe sleep deprivation and stress.
According to Doyle, frustration with an infant’s crying is the most common trigger to a caregiver harming an infant.
“Incidents like this underscore the importance of working to assure that parents receive the support they need during the stressful time when infant crying increases and may be unsoothable,” she said. “Shaken baby syndrome and other forms of infant maltreatment can be the result when parents or other caregivers are unprepared for infant crying that can last up to five hours per day.”
Orta-Santana’s son’s injuries were reported to Newmarket police last year by staff at Boston Children’s Hospital who were treating the infant for a head injury. They became suspicious when they realized the scope and severity of the injuries. Orta-Santana initially lied to police about the injuries, then eventually broke down crying, admitting to officers, “I know, I hit him a few times and I’m sorry,” according to court documents.
Police said he admitted to holding the infant with one arm while punching him in the head, and to throwing the infant onto a bed so hard he would bounce into the air. The infant suffered two skull fractures, a significant cerebral contusion, rib fractures and other significant injuries.
To prevent such cases, the Children’s Trust supports research-informed, strength-based approaches that protect children from harm, including The Period of Purple Crying, developed by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Doyle said.
An infant abuse prevention program, The Period of Purple Crying provides training to prepare parents for the normal developmental stage of increased crying infants may go through between two weeks and six months of age.
According to Doyle, 17 of 18 of the state’s birthing hospitals have adopted the program, meaning up to 95 percent of New Hampshire parents have the opportunity to get the training.
“Our hope is that not only will parents use the coping strategies and soothing techniques outlined in the program, but seek out support from families, friends, and neighbors or their local family resource center to be able to get through this stressful time,” Doyle said. “It is important that everyone be aware of this period of purple crying so that caretakers are equipped to cope with infant crying and can keep their babies free from harm.”
The NH Children’s Trust leads New Hampshire’s effort to prevent child abuse and coordinates the implementation of the Period of Purple Crying program in New Hampshire. For more information, visit NHChildrensTrust.org/purple.