"Strong Man, Gentle Man" Awareness Campaign in Response to Infant, Toddler Deaths

Mercy Health has partnered with Lucas County Children Services (LCCS), the Toledo Police Department, and other community groups on a grass-roots public awareness campaign designed to prevent child abuse injuries and deaths caused by unrelated male caregivers of our community's children. The aim is to educate these individuals who may have little or no experience in dealing with the stress of caring for young children.

The campaign, “It Takes a Strong Man to be a Gentle Man” is in direct response to three child deaths during the first months of 2018. In each case, a male caregiver who was not the baby or toddler's father allegedly inflicted physical harm that led to fatal injuries. 

"The mission of our agency is to lead the community in the protection of children at risk of abuse and neglect," said Robin Reese, LCCS executive director. "In this instance, young men are becoming caregivers because they are in some sort of relationship with a young child's mother. But they need to know they are legally responsible for that child's well-being when that little one is in their care. It really does take a strong man to be a gentle man in frustrating situations."

The campaign will feature a number of elements, including digital and traditional billboards, posters, PSA's, social media, community conversations, and outreach cards that can be handed out with printed information and referral resources on fatherhood. There also is an information page on the LCCS website: http://www.co.lucas.oh.us/3240/Strong-ManGentle-Man

The Community Services section of the Toledo Police Dept. will help to distribute cards and posters in the community, both at commercial businesses and in neighborhoods during street patrols and special events. Other locations that will be contacted as part of the grass-roots campaign include social service agencies, Mercy Health locations, barbershops, beauty salons, carry-outs, and convenience stores, including Stop-and-Go locations. 

“Shaking and smacking infants and toddlers can cause bleeding within the child’s brain, leading to permanent injuries and sadly sometimes even death,” said Dr. Randall Schlievert, a Mercy Health pediatrician and director of the Child Abuse Prevention Program at Mercy Health. “Getting angry or frustrated can lead to rough behavior, which is extremely dangerous for all children, especially those babies under the age of 12 months. The key is to get help before you lose control and to remind our male caregivers that being gentle is a sign of being a true man.”

“Tragically, this year we have seen three innocent infants killed by male caregivers,” said Toledo Police Chief George Kral. “We have partnered with Lucas County Children Services to re-instill the message that if a child is in your care, you are responsible for the child’s well-being. Simply put, if you harm a child, we will investigate and you WILL be put behind bars.”

A study published in the November 2005 journal Pediatrics reported that children living with adults who aren't related to them were nearly 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries than children residing with two biological parents. A mother's boyfriend represents about one-fourth of all perpetrators. In Lucas County, between 2001 and 2015, mother’s boyfriend or the child’s stepfather were responsible for 25 percent of child deaths. 

Studies also find a strong link between domestic violence among partners and child abuse committed by the non-related partner. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics study, "The common circumstances for the homicide are the victim being at home, being alone with the caretaker/perpetrator and crying."