Story by Caitlin VanOverberghe
Photos by Tom Russo
GREENFIELD — Ryan Quartier knows how to hold a baby. Carefully, with an elbow placed below her neck and gentleness few but a father can possess.
His children are 8 and 2 years old now, but balancing a baby doll in his arms reminded him of all the diaper changes, the high-pitched crying when they needed something and the patience it took to be a good dad.
Quartier recently attended a child safety class offered to inmates at the Hancock County Jail by Prevent Child Abuse Hancock County, a local organization that aims to teach community members about safe child care and the signs of child abuse.
The hour-long class focuses on safe childcare tactics, teaches inmates about shaken baby and sudden infant death syndromes and provides them information about where to turn for help when it’s needed.
The hope is the inmates who sit through the class will carry its lessons outside the jail and pass their knowledge on to friends, said Linda Garrity, a member of Prevent Child Abuse Hancock County. The idea is that if more people hear the information and utilize it, instances of child abuse and neglect will lessen.
The classes are open to any inmate, not just those facing child abuse charges, said Garrity, a registered nurse and community education coordinator for Hancock Regional Hospital. The lessons are held twice a month, and roughly 10 inmates per month have opted to attend since the classes started in January.
Because he helped raise two kids of his own, Quartier said he already knew a lot of the information taught in the class, but he was grateful for the refresher.
“My kids are my life,” Quartier said. “You can never be too safe.”
The Prevent Child Abuse Hancock County organization was created last year with the goal of impeding child abuse in the area. As its first birthday looms, the organization’s leaders say they are happy with the progress the group has made, and they’re eager to see it grow.
Members make regular appearances at health fairs and volunteer events, where they engage community members in conversations about child safety, said Theresa Lueder, the organization’s co-chair. Adding a child safety class to the list of services the jail provides was one of the group’s many goals.
It’s similar to a class Garrity leads at Hancock Regional Hospital for new parents. The course focuses on three topics: shaken baby syndrome, safe sleep practices and the state’s safe haven law, which gives parents 30 days to legally and confidentially give up an infant at an emergency medical services provider.
During a recent class, Garrity used one of the hospital’s demonstration baby dolls to show inmates what they shouldn’t do when trying to comfort and calm a crying child.
Babies have fragile heads, necks and spines, she told the inmates. Being too rough with them can cause bleeding in the brain, blindness and even death.
The primary message she hopes people participating in the class take away? Walk away for a few moments when you’re frustrated with a crying baby.
And, if parenting gets to be too much to handle, call for help, Garrity advised.
Attendance at the jail class has varied with each session, but Sheriff’s Capt. Andy Craig, the jail commander, estimated as many as 60 inmates have successfully completed the course.
Right now, the lesson is offered primarily to male inmates; men aren’t traditionally the caregiver for a child, Craig said, and jail officials hope the classes will help inmates develop fatherly instincts, he said.
Inmate Ryan McCauley doesn’t yet have children but often helps care for his girlfriend’s young kids. Completing the safety class makes him feel more prepared for the times when he’s left alone with the youngsters, he said.
Jonathan Wright attended the class for similar reasons and said he learned a lot about safely caring for a child, but he admitted getting out of his cell block for a little while was another incentive to participate.
Garrity is sure a change of scenery is the reason many inmates sign up to participate in the class. But she’ll take it, she said.
“The goal is to teach any person so they can spread the word,” Garrity said.