The Discovery of the ‘Battered Baby’

  • Nigel Parton


It is now important to establish where, when, and to whom the problem we now call child abuse was initially discovered. I will attempt to locate the discovery historically and answer a series of interrelated questions: who took the initiative and when? Was there a distinguishable group of moral entrepreneurs? How important were organisational interests? How was the problem defined, conceptualised and explained? What were the recommendations for policy and practice? What was specific to the issue and how was it seen to differ from other children’s problems? If the issue was to be more generally regarded as a problem and the state to take a more active role in doing something about it, the initial concern and discovery had to be shared and made more widespread. Therefore others had to be convinced that the situation was dangerous and important enough to require public attention. What tactics were involved and how did these relate to wider changes in the socio-political environment? I will thus be looking at wider social processes and, more particularly, the role of the media and the state in promoting the problem.


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Notes and References

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    The only mention of the ‘Battered Child’ in Social Work Today, the journal of the British Association of Social Workers, was in relation to the dismissal of Miss Joan Court as head of the NSPCC Battered Child Research Unit in 1971. (See Social Work Today, 21 October 1971, 18 November 1971, 13 January 1972 and 27 January 1972). This dismissal seems to reflect in part the clash of perspectives, between the fast developing professional social work approach, as epitomised by the Research Unit, and the more traditional inspectorial roles in the NSPCC.Google Scholar
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    See Davies, ‘Maltreated Children: Early Warning System and Follow-up Scheme’; and Parry and Seymour, ‘Epidemiology of Battered Babies in Nottingham’.Google Scholar
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    In a personal communication Miss Court has said she spent a great deal of her time initially helping to increase awareness of the problem within DHSS.Google Scholar

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© Nigel Parton 1985

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  • Nigel Parton

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