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Abusive Head Trauma 

Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) is a severe head and/or neck injury from physical child abuse.  It typically occurs when an infant is shaken or thrown against a hard surface, often in response to the baby’s continuous crying. AHT is the most common cause of severe injury and death from child abuse in children under the age of one.


Despite an increased scientific understanding of the causes and dynamics of AHT and improved ability to diagnose it, it is often difficult to achieve justice for child victims. Cases involving AHT are usually extremely complex and difficult to litigate for prosecutors who don’t fully understand the nature of the injury, the science behind it, and legal issues related to its prosecution. Courts have also become increasingly receptive to testimony provided by irresponsible expert witnesses who challenge the legitimacy of AHT diagnoses by providing misleading, misguided, and scientifically unsound testimony.


Preventing AHT before it ever occurs would be the optimal goal, and a number of programs have been developed to address it, but research on preventing severe child abuse like AHT is limited.


Below are links to resources to help prosecutors and other legal child welfare professionals be better prepared to litigate AHT cases.  We also offer resources describing the current state of prevention of this most severe form of child abuse.

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MILTON LEE LEMONS, Defendant-Appellant.

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Paul Stern, JD

Prosecuting Attorney, Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office  

Vincent J. Palusci, MD

Professor, Department of Pediatrics at

NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Frank Vandervort, JD

Clinical Profession of Law, University of Michigan Law School


Ronald C. Hughes, PhD, MSSA

Executive Director, Center for Child Policy

Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Child Policy

Executive Director, Institute for Human Services

Robert Parrish, JD

Professor of Fundamentals of Lawyering,

George Washington University School of Law

Debangshu Roygardner, PhD

Assistant Director, Vincent J. Fontana Center &

Mental Health Services, The New  York Foundling

Kelli N. Hughes, JD

Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Child Policy


Elaine S. Cabinum Foeller, MD

Associate Professor of Pediatrics, East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine 

Marcella M. Donaruma-Kwoh, MD 

Associate Professor of Pediatrics,

Baylor College of Medicine

Tricia Gardner, JD

Associate Professor of Pediatrics & Directors of Professional Education

Center on Child Abuse and Neglect,

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Richard Krugman, MD

Distinguished Professor,

University of Colorado School of Medicine 

Bethany Mohr, MD, FAAP

Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, University of Michigan

Medical Director, Michigan Medicine Child Protection Team

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