March 31, 2009 in City

Hospitals dropping birth notices

Officials cite concern over infant abductions
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Hospitals in Spokane are quitting their practice of submitting birth notices to media outlets, including The Spokesman-Review, amid fears that such information could be used to abduct babies.

“It comes down to how we can ensure the best safety to infants and their families,” said Sherry Maughan, director of women’s health services at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Providence Holy Family Hospital.

Hospitals have served as an information filter for the parents of newborns. Parents who wanted to share news of the birth of a child with the community could sign a media release form and the newspaper would publish the announcement. The hospitals announced Friday that the practice will stop Wednesday.

A baby has never been kidnapped from a hospital in the county, according to spokespersons.

Yet, after years of unease over the practice, recommended guidelines from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the American Academy of Pediatrics discouraging birth announcements, the hospitals will discontinue its sponsorship, said Deaconess Medical Center spokeswoman Christine Varela.

Births are a matter of public record and are readily available.

“We understand the hospitals’ concern about the possible misuse of birth information,” said Gary Graham, editor of The Spokesman-Review. “We also know that birth announcements are widely read and their publication is a service to readers, families and friends.

“At this point, we’re studying our options, and we will try to determine the best course of action.”

John Rabun, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the missing and exploited children’s center, said withholding birth announcements could prevent future abductions. Rabun is a former Louisville, Ky., police officer who investigated crimes against children. He said anything that can be done to stop such tragedies should be implemented.

The number of infants abducted by strangers from hospitals and other health care facilities nationwide has fallen from a high of 11 in 1991, to two in the past couple of years.

Abductions from hospitals, however, are just one scenario. Kidnappers may use birth announcement information to locate the home of new parents and break in to take a baby, Rabun said.

The crimes are rare: Four infants have been abducted in the last 26 years in Washington. Two were from hospitals, one from a home and one from somewhere else.

No infants have been abducted in Idaho, according to statistics from the missing and exploited children’s center.

“What we’re trying to do is lessen that risk,” Rabun said of the guidelines.


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