Tight access to unit is key to preventing infant abductions

At press time, no infants had been abducted from healthcare providers in the United States in 2013, but there are steps you can take to ensure that disaster does not strike your facility, notes prevention expert John Rabun, ASCW, director of infant abduction response for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, VA.

Rabun spent 28 years as executive vice president and CEO of NCMEC before semi-retiring in February 2012. Though the news of no abductions is good for this year, Rabun has observed that some hospitals need to improve their security practices. In particular, he tells Healthcare Risk Management, risk managers should confirm that their nurseries are using tight security.

Nurseries, both well-baby and neonatal intensive care, should be locked. Staff members should check the status of the locking system regularly, at least once on each shift. “Recently, there seem to be many cases wherein the badging system has been set to all facility staff rather than only to those staff with permission under policy to care for and transport newborns,” Rabun explains.

Rabun says that in 2013, there have been “a number of penetrations into nurseries by women who were assessed as being potential abductors,” although no infants were taken. Those incidents indicate that physical security of the nursery is a top priority for preventing abductions, he says.

“The number of assessed potential abductors from healthcare seems much higher than we ever suspected. There is no way to get precise numbers and no incidence study,” Rabun says. “We do not know how many of these suspected individuals would never actually put their plan into final action, but that many are at least into the feigned pregnancy and surveying the hospital is very clear.”

The more widespread use of recorded digital cameras is proving vital to the analysis of and reaction to these individuals and for the transmission of that information between area hospitals, Rabun says. That information indicates that potential abductors seem to make multiple attempts at multiple facilities before taking an infant, being caught, or giving up, he says. Rabun encourages risk managers to report any suspicious incidents quickly to the NCMEC so that he and his colleagues can look for patterns and trends of behavior and advise healthcare professionals and law enforcement.

“Many facilities are clearly, albeit gradually, reducing access points to mother and baby units and seeing good results in visitor control,” Rabun says. “Diligence and frequent checks on the use of unique photo ID continues to be the mainstay for getting moms on the security team for their babies.”


  • John Rabun, ASCW, Director of Infant Abduction Response, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Alexandria, VA. Telephone: (703) 437-8218. Email: jrabun@ncmec.org.