ICON programme ‘will save lives’ as continuing fall-out from Covid, soaring financial strain increase parents’ stress

Most people will not have heard of ICON, but many will have seen news reports of babies and toddlers being shaken to death or left permanently disabled by such actions.

Based in Cyprus*, the Community Health Care Team of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity is promoting ICON Week (4 to 8 July) to prevent babies and young children being harmed or killed – and the need may never have been greater.

Research1 into the situation in the UK from 2019 indicated that more than 250 babies and infants in the last decade died or suffered traumatic brain injuries because of abusive head trauma.

Further studies2 suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, which enforced social isolation on parents and children and greater difficulty in accessing services, precipitated a sharp rise in cases.

Back to ICON, which stands for

I (Infant crying is normal)
C (Comforting methods can help)
O (t’s OK to walk away)
N (Never, ever shake a baby.

ICON – its key message is “Babies cry; you can cope” – is a programme founded in 2016 by Dr Suzanne Smith following work in the USA and Canada, which included the study of effective interventions and research into the prevention of AHT. ICON is supported by the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Dr Smith said:

“Abusive head trauma can occur in any environment when a parent or carer is on the edge due to infant crying. We want to share information far and wide that infant crying is normal and will reach a peak around about six to eight weeks old.

“We want parents/carers to feel supported in knowing what to do when their baby is crying, how to stay calm and cope.

“I’m especially grateful to SSAFA’s Community Health Care Team, which provides care, advice, and support to British Forces and their families posted overseas, for its support for the programme not just during ICON Week, but by implementing the programme so that it is available all year round.”

Specialist Health Visitor Clare Henderson of SSAFA’s Community Health Care Team commented:

“The role out of the ICON programme is very timely, with parents experiencing increased levels of stress, as the fallout from COVID lockdowns continue with financial strains as the cost-of-living surges with food, fuel and bills increasing greater than wages.

“The ICON programme, interventions, and messages are very easy to understand and can be discussed at key health promotion times antenatally in preparation and in the early weeks of a baby’s life where they are more likely to be feeling the strain.

“Pushing this key safeguarding message out via the Global Safeguarding Team across the whole military community will undoubtedly save lives. Thanks for the support of the ICON founders and implementation team and Global Safeguarding Team in the UK for pushing this forward.”

Chris Leahy of the MoD’s Armed Forces Families & Safeguarding team added:

“We very much welcome SSAFA Community Health overseas team’s support and enthusiasm for raising awareness of such an important issue and for implementing the ICON intervention in relevant overseas areas. This work will no doubt contribute to the prevention of abusive head trauma, additional support to families, and the safeguarding of all children across Defence.”

For more information, visit iconcope.org.

*As well as Cyprus, the Community Health Care Team operates in Brunei, BATUS, Gibraltar, BATUK, EJSU, SHAPE Sennelager, and Naples.

If you are posted overseas locations and are finding it difficult to cope with your baby’s crying, then please contact your local Medical Centre.

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