A Brief Memoir on the Early Days of the Battered Child Syndrome

Author(s): Ron Westrum

Many years ago (1978-1979) I was lucky enough to spend time at the University of Edinburgh as a guest of its Science Studies Unit. While I was there, I audited a course taught by Professor John Mason called “Forensic Medicine for Lawyers.” As a fan of “Sherlock Holmes” this sounded fascinating. With permission from Prof. Mason, I sat in on his course. During one lecture Mason mentioned the work of C. Henry Kempe, on child abuse. He discussed a program that Kempe had started to identify mothers who might have low bonding with their infants, putting the babies at risk for child abuse. In hospital he got nurses to identify these mothers with low bonding, and to them he offered a course about what they could and could not expect with their newborns. This course, I was told, reduced the amount of child abuse for the mothers who got it. I put this fact aside for the moment. But then, when I returned to the USA, I interviewed a number of American pioneers who had responded to early reports of child abuse. The interviewees included Dr. Kempe himself, whom I met while on another visiting appointment, at the University of Hawaii. As well there were several others who appear in the account below. The following memoir was written while in Honolulu in 1984. Since it contains some details of original research, I thought it might interest the readers of this journal.