After a series of high-profile cases of missing children, the Reagan Administration established National Missing Children’s Day in 1983 to highlight the need to make child safety a priority. Every year on May 25, attention is given to policies and other efforts that reduce the risk of children going missing and focus on bringing missing children home.

Since 1964, an average of five to six infants have been abducted each year, with 42.6 percent of those abductions happening in health care facilities. Safety of infants after birth is as important as any prenatal safety efforts during the length of their stay in a hospital. Ensuring infant security is critical to not only the reputation of the hospital, but also to the peace of mind of every person there, from nursing staff to new parents.

In hospital settings, infant abductions historically follow a similar pattern: a woman of child-bearing age routinely visits a hospital maternity ward to obtain information on procedures and hospital layout, impersonates a nurse, and gains the trust of new parents. They frequently use fire exit stairwells to avoid being detected as they leave the facility.

Over the years, hospitals have taken significant action to safeguard infants, new mothers, and their facilities against abductions, and to ensure that each infant is correctly matched with its mother or legal guardian. These strategies include educating new parents, electronic security measures, and comprehensive protocol for staff. It has been estimated that approximately 80% of hospitals in the U.S. use some form of electronic matching for babies and parents. In a proactive effort to maintain preparedness and security, hospital staff also frequently conduct Code Pink drills to practice abduction responses and reinforce the need for everyone to be alert for any unusual behavior.

Automated infant protection systems are modern tools that go beyond basic infant ID systems to complement and back up a hospital security team’s procedures. These systems have become more sophisticated in recent years and can enhance the ability of security officers, risk management personnel, and nursing staff to work as a coordinated team to protect new mothers and their most vulnerable patients – infants.

Benefits to using a smart infant protection system

Following delivery, new mothers are experiencing shortened stays in the maternity ward and hospitals are increasingly moving away from the use of nurseries in favor of keeping infants in the room with the mother following birth. While good for parental bonding and other added benefits, the combination means newborns are more vulnerable as they spend most of their time in an area that is easier to gain access to and where a potential stranger impersonating hospital staff is more likely to go undetected. While infants and new mothers are in the hospital, security personnel and hospital staff are responsible for their safety no matter where they are located in the facility.

The impact of an attempted or successful infant abduction often produces devastating effects to the infant's family, hospital staff, and surrounding community. A smart infant protection system adds heightened security to existing systems and protocols, and provides peace of mind as new mothers focus on recovery and bonding with their child. The hospital's security officers and administrators also benefit significantly from the enhanced protections, improving patient safety and the facility’s reputation. By investing in a reliable, automated infant protection system, families and caretakers can rest assured that infants are protected 24/7.

How automated infant protection works

Infants protected by a real-time location system (RTLS) wear small, comfortable, and discreet electronic sensors that monitor their location throughout the hospital’s campus. These waterproof sensors include umbilical attachments and ankle bands that use skin-sensing tamper detection. The sensors actively communicate with the integrated system which generate instant alerts at the nurse’s workstation and logs the event in the system’s database if the device is removed from the newborn's skin, tampered with, or stops communicating with the system.

Similar to the newborn, mothers are also fitted with a lightweight electronic sensor that enable staff members to ensure proper mother-baby matching and provide confidence to families that they’re bonding and returning home with the correct infant.

Automated infant protection solutions offer facility-wide safety for newborns, mothers, and staff. For added defense, some systems are available with clinical-grade locating technology for advanced patient visibility, extreme accuracy, and enhanced reliability.

Advanced capabilities of automated systems

Advanced automated infant protection systems offer integrations that go beyond alerts that make maternity wards and hospitals more secure than ever before. Infant protection solutions that utilize a real-time location system with clinical-grade location capabilities identify an infant’s location with high specificity – such as the exact patient room, bay, facility hallway, or stairwell. These systems integrate easily and quickly with other security and access control systems that facilities may already have in place.

When powered by RTLS, infant protection systems can document a potential abduction as it unfolds and complement the security team’s procedures as they respond to alerts. If an unauthorized attempt to leave a monitored area with a protected infant occurs, the system will instantaneously set off an alarm, activate door locks and disable elevators to lockdown the unit, and capture video of the incident. In addition, nursing workstations display facility floor plans of monitored areas and actively communicate the real-time location of infants. The workstation also shows the protected exits and stairwells and issues automated alerts when it detects an infant tag is approaching.

These advanced systems provide the additional protection hospitals require, while still allowing patients, visitors, and hospital staff access to the unit. Through easy-to-use software applications, clinicians and security personnel gain a reliable partner to protect the infants, parents, and the facility.

In addition, these systems are dependable, vigilant, and unaffected by distractions, staff breaks, and shift changes. And, while they are a strong deterrent in the first place, they also allow for a quick response should an abduction attempt occur.

Selecting the ideal solution

When seeking enhancements to existing security and location-based systems, finding a provider that offers interoperability, accurate technology, and end-to-end automated solutions ensures reliability through proper design, implementation, testing and maintenance. Selecting a partner with a comprehensive suite of RTLS solutions also makes it easier to expand the system in the future as new needs arise. For instance, an integrated system could include not only infant protection solutions, but also staff duress solutions which rely on location technology to alert security personnel when a staff member is under duress and provide an accurate location so they can receive immediate assistance.

Each year, National Missing Children’s Day draws attention to the importance of developing greater protection for vulnerable children. Since more than 40 percent of all infant abductions occur in hospitals, it is crucial for security officers and directors to continue augmenting safety protocols and systems to protect newborns and their parents.