Vulnerable child syndrome (VCS) describes a phenomenon in which a child is perceived as being at higher risk for medical, behavioral, or developmental problems than is warranted by the child’s current health. It is most often thought to occur in children who have experienced a serious or life-threatening event or who have a chronic medical condition. However, VCS should be considered a maladaptive family dynamic and can also occur in families that have not experienced a significant event, particularly where parental mental health needs are unmet. Parental perception of exaggerated risk may lead to overuse of medical services, possible unnecessary interventions, and poor parenting practices, parent-child attachment, and child development.

Several factors may predispose families to develop these maladaptive relationships and perceptions of their child. Infertility, pregnancy loss or emergent pregnancy complications, and premature birth may result in VCS. While the child is in the NICU, parents of premature infants...

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