Some who read this may find it a strange title but oth­ers of you who have worked with chil­dren from chal­lenged envi­ron­ments like orphan­ages, or seen chil­dren abused in many of its forms in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments, will under­stand what I am writ­ing about. When I say ‘bro­ken’ I mean babies who are emo­tion­al­ly and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly scarred — more often than not you will see no phys­i­cal marks on their bod­ies. It is their behav­iours that tell you their devel­op­men­tal history. 

Bro­ken babies are most­ly those babies who are in the care of uncar­ing indi­vid­u­als. The worst part of this syn­drome is that the per­son break­ing the baby could even be a fam­i­ly mem­ber. In a few cas­es those fam­i­ly mem­bers do not under­stand that how they treat their child bor­ders on neglect. In oth­er cas­es the care­givers have no train­ing or when they claim to be trained their train­ing is at a very poor lev­el, either due to their own inabil­i­ty to learn or the inabil­i­ty of the insti­tu­tion grant­i­ng the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to know what they should real­ly be teach­ing or the type of per­son they are send­ing out into the world of ear­ly care.

We all know about impov­er­ished fam­i­lies and the low socio-eco­nom­ic groups that are fre­quent­ly the indi­vid­u­als and sit­u­a­tions world wide which are fund­ed and stud­ied by researchers at many of the world’s most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties. How­ev­er, the biggest group of bro­ken babies, large­ly hid­den from view, now con­tains the chil­dren of the affluent.

How many chil­dren do you know where both par­ents are con­sid­ered very suc­cess­ful? My ex-den­tist was a won­der­ful per­son (her hus­band is a den­tist with his own prac­tice too). I real­ly trust­ed her to care for my teeth and my sons’ teeth, but she has three chil­dren with devel­op­men­tal delays. THREE! Who was car­ing for her babies while she was working?

Anoth­er cou­ple I know has two chil­dren. The moth­er is a lawyer and the father works long hours in a trav­el-relat­ed busi­ness. Their old­est child was diag­nosed with flat head syn­drome and had to wear a hel­met to com­pen­sate for the con­di­tion, and when I saw their son at about age two his pal­lor was pos­i­tive­ly grey. I was wor­ried about how he was devel­op­ing too. I recalled that even as a baby when he was with his moth­er he was bot­tle-fed on breast milk but in quite a detached man­ner. Both chil­dren were in the care of the same moth­er-and-daugh­ter run fam­i­ly day care. If that were me I would have been wor­ried about the care­giv­ing for the first child and made changes for the sec­ond! (I sus­pect it was ‘too late’ by the time they dis­cov­ered the flat head syn­drome in the first — but why did it not occur to them that the care­givers might be at fault?) I don’t believe there was any ref­er­ence by a physi­cian to the pos­si­ble cause of the flat head syn­drome. Most expe­ri­enced care­givers would know the cause, even some ther­a­py web­sites are sug­gest­ing that spend­ing too many hours in a con­tain­er could be con­tribut­ing to the problem!

There is hard­ly a fam­i­ly I know, most­ly with two work­ing par­ents, where one or more of their chil­dren isn’t suf­fer­ing from a devel­op­men­tal delay. Sad­ly most of the delays haven’t been recog­nised by either the par­ents or their pedi­a­tri­cian so no test­ing has been done. When test­ing is done there does­n’t seem to have been a com­pre­hen­sive bat­tery of tests to assess true intel­li­gence ver­sus behav­iour prob­lems, includ­ing a full devel­op­men­tal, fam­i­ly and day care his­to­ry (For me the ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ of ear­ly care are fre­quent­ly crit­i­cal miss­ing details in a full devel­op­men­tal test).

In sev­er­al fam­i­lies I know I have observed dis­tinct­ly quirky behav­iours, devel­op­men­tal or emo­tion­al issues from as ear­ly as four months! Nei­ther par­ents nor care­givers seem to see the issues I’ve observed. Is that because I know what can be done to cor­rect those devel­op­men­tal anom­alies? I’ve done that on sev­er­al occa­sions and know that the longer we wait to cor­rect even a small chal­leng­ing issue the worse it becomes and the more com­plex it becomes to treat. Or is it that such anom­alies have become ‘the norm’?

For me, all the chil­dren I’ve men­tioned are bro­ken babies in some form.

Unless you have been around the live­ly and cheer­ful fam­i­lies whose chil­dren aren’t bro­ken you can have no idea how big the dif­fer­ence is! Sad to say I only know a few fam­i­lies with chil­dren like that — the plea­sure I get, any­one gets, from being around them is immeasurable! 

It takes more con­scious effort to care for babies and young chil­dren today. So many par­ents want to main­tain their pre-baby social life plus their careers — when is there actu­al­ly time to be with their baby? How can they get to know this lit­tle per­son, to under­stand their true needs?

Cou­ple the par­ents’ needs and work oblig­a­tions with a care­giv­er who has­n’t a clue as to what babies need and…another bro­ken baby!

There was a bro­ken baby on tele­vi­sion some weeks ago. Well-mean­ing par­ents had installed a web­cam for a care­giv­er they had employed for a year. The care­giv­er was actu­al­ly smack­ing a sev­en-month-old! A sev­en-month-old! Will that baby ever be repaired? Will he always suf­fer from a fear of new care­givers, espe­cial­ly ones who don’t look like his par­ents — the par­ents looked south­east Asian, the care­giv­er was black.

That child will suf­fer from bro­ken baby syn­drome for a long time and I’m not sure that the par­ents are real­ly aware of how seri­ous a devel­op­men­tal issue it is.

Check out a few quirky adults you know and try and build some sense of their ear­ly years and then you’ll start to under­stand what I mean. Bet­ter yet, meet their par­ents and then it will all become clear to you!