When Sheryl, 19, asked her new boyfriend, Todd, to take care of her eight-month-old baby while she went shopping, he agreed, hoping that the baby would sleep while he watched a football game on television. The baby was getting over a cold, however, and was fussy that afternoon. Todd found it impossible to calm the baby and watch the game. Exasperated by the crying, Todd grabbed the baby and shook him, yelling, "Stop crying. I want to watch the game!" When Sheryl came home an hour or so later, she found the baby in his crib, unresponsive and, as it turned out, very badly injured.
Too often we read newspaper stories like Sheryl's, about parents who have left their infant or small child in the care of someone poorly equipped to care for that child. Too frequently the baby or child is horrifically injured, or even dies.
Because of this incident and others like it, in April 2011, the annual Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign in Allegheny County (southwest Pennsylvania) focused on raising awareness about the importance of choosing a partner carefully and being thoughtful about the person in whose care you leave your baby or child.
The campaign, "Your Baby is Counting on You," adapted materials (with permission) from similar campaigns implemented by partners in child welfare systems in New York and Ohio, Our aim was to reach a target audience of young parents. To help ensure that the campaign resonated with the target audience, we asked for feedback on the content and visual elements from pregnant and parenting teens and young adults attending classes at a local hospital and who were participating in parenting classes in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
We also asked teens and young adults who were aging out of the county's child welfare system for their perspectives and their ideas about which radio stations we should use for the campaign's public service announcements. Some of these young people served as spokespersons for the campaign in radio interviews and at a City Council hearing. The radio and television public service announcements were developed and produced by youth with the help of a local organization called Hip Hop on L.O.C.K., a youth-focused mentoring and arts education program that teaches leadership, organizational skills, cooperative economics, and knowledge of the music business.
The message urged parents of young children to: "Choose your partner carefully. …