by Chris Derrett
Robinson High School’s Child Development teacher has seen countless students stumble into her classroom and beg for their babies to be taken away.
The students are sick of the crying, exhausted from tending to the babies’ needs around the clock and frustrated as the babies dictate every minute of their schedules.
The crying stops, but only until the baby becomes the responsibility of another student.
It’s a good thing these babies are only simulation dolls.
Make it stop
“What’s most common is they just come in very fatigued and very relieved,” Robinson’s teacher says. “They just say, ‘Turn it off now; I’ve been waiting since 7:15 a.m.’”
These babies, known as RealCare babies, have been used her child development class at Robinson for the past eight years. It was at that time that Robinson’s teacher learned from a colleague about Youth Connection Waco’s RealCare loaning program. Since Youth Connection Waco partnered with Robinson, dozens of students have experienced life with a simulated newborn child.
Students quickly learn not to be fooled by the “simulation” part of RealCare babies — they’re as real one could imagine.
Upon receiving an activated RealCare baby, students are responsible for feeding, burping, diapering and rocking the babies when they cry for attention. The babies are programmed to sometimes cry continuously, regardless of what the students do, like a real life baby often does. At the end of the care period, which lasts one or two days for Robinson students, the babies are connected to a computer program that shows exactly when the babies cried and what the students did to care for them.
Robinson’s teacher distributes all her RealCare babies on a volunteer basis to ensure students are committed to caring for the babies and learning from the process. Those students usually approach the experiment positively, but the babies still prove too much to handle for some.
“I’ve had a few students who could not attend to it, and it cried all night long,” Robinson’s teacher reported. “They put it in a different room; they just couldn’t do it.”
In the worst cases, the computer report will indicate the baby shut down because of abuse. There was once a student who wasn’t responsible for the abuse; a family member couldn’t stand the crying and shook the baby until it stopped.
Hard to watch
As one of the child development volunteer presenters has learned, shaking a simulation baby to the point of severe injury hurts when one knows it happens all too often in real life.
“Although it’s something difficult to do, it’s important [the students] experience it,”said Stacy Carter, a Youth Connection volunteer, who describes to students the dangers of baby abuse in great detail.
Carter got involved with Youth Connection Waco after meeting the organization’s executive
director, Carolyn Nichols. Carter called RealCare baby presentations a “perfect match” with the opportunity to help Waco teenagers in pregnancy prevention.
Carter gave presentations to Waco high schoolers about shaken baby syndrome, drug-addicted babies and fetal alcohol syndrome. She taught about each condition using a RealCare baby designed to mimic a baby affected by the diseases.
The drug-addicted RealCare baby screams while vibrating units make the baby shake; the RealCare baby suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome is much smaller and frailer than a usual baby.
While those babies aren’t fun to present, Carter said it’s particularly hard for her to use the RealCare baby representing shaken baby syndrome. The baby has a transparent head with red lights that illuminate when sensors detect the baby has been shaken too hard. It begins with one light, and the others turn on as the baby endures more and more abuse.
As part of the presentation, Carter shakes the baby until it dies.
“That experience is not natural, and it’s difficult to show them how that works,” Carter said.
Students also shake the baby and are surprised by how easily the baby can sustain life-threatening injuries.
“The major message I’m really emphasizing to the audience is that these are all preventable,” Carter said. “With education we can spread the word, and we can stop a lot of unnecessary disabilities.”
For the future
There are no childcare questions on the SAT or ACT, but Robinson’s teacher says the things her students learn from RealCare babies might be some of the most important information of their lives. At some point, most or all of the child development students will care for a child that either belongs to them, a family member or a friend.
That’s why the RealCare baby test, “is one of the most important things to do all year with them.”
Until the day babies can feed and clothe themselves, the need for proper childcare will always remain.
“The class that I teach is an elective, and ‘relevance’ is very much drilled into our heads,” Robinson’s teacher said. “[The students] are going to all benefit from the awareness and relevance.”
For more information about Youth Connection’s Real Care Baby Project, contact Youth Connnection Executive Director Carolyn Nichols at (254) 202-8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.