Brandt Steele, 97; Studied Child Abuse

From a Times Staff Writer

Dr. Brandt F. Steele, a psychiatrist and pioneer in the treatment of child abuse victims who helped coin the term “battered child,” has died.

Steele, 97, died of natural causes Jan. 19.

In a 1962 paper, Steele and longtime associate Dr. C. Henry Kempe, a pediatrician, became the first to detail the physical and psychological symptoms of child abuse by parents, dubbing the result “battered child syndrome.”

The paper, which documented 300 cases of abuse, was pronounced one of the 20th century’s 50 most important medical contributions by the Journal of the American Medical Assn.


Steele and Kempe were the first to document that abusers themselves often were childhood victims of abuse and neglect.

“Some people have such bleak childhoods that they have never been loved and so have no empathy or feeling for others,” Steele told a congress on child abuse and neglect in Sydney, Australia, in 1986. “We don’t know any way to treat them except through a very long relationship” that would be difficult to achieve.

According to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, which announced Steele’s death, Steele was instrumental in the development of the National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, now called the Kempe Children’s Center.

Steele’s work there focused on figuring out why parents would abuse their children, and what might be done to help them stop.


To that end, he studied how ancient and modern cultures viewed children and how they cared for them. He also studied the childhood experiences of prisoners at a state penitentiary.

Steele earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees from Indiana University. Although he contracted polio in 1941, he served in the Army during World War II in Europe.

He joined the faculty of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1958.

Steele is survived by two sons; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.