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babydoorstep

A few months ago I wrote an article on the consequences of not registering your baby’s name, with advice being that there were no immediate penalties for not making the sixty-day registration deadline, but it should be completed as soon as possible.

The state of New South Wales has now made changes to their birth registry system. This follows two tragic cases of abandonment of newborn babies in Sydney, which occurred within a week of one another.

In one case a baby boy had been left in a drain for almost a week, with the mother now facing charges of attempted murder, and in the other, a baby girl’s decomposed body was found buried in sand dunes, with the parents still unknown. This seems to underline Unicef’s findings that unregistered babies were more likely to be neglected and abused.

Attorney-General Brad Hazzard says a new software program named LifeLink will be introduced early next year to automatically match birth notifications from hospitals with registrations from parents. At present, hospitals have seven days to notify the registry of a baby’s birth, and it is the parents’ responsibility to officially register the baby within sixty days.

The Attorney-General says he is concerned that there may be other unregistered babies out there, and that they could be at risk. The LifeLink program is designed to provide more consistency in the birth registration process. It would also work as a cross-reference to identify parents who have forgotten to register their child, or deliberately failed to do so.

A taskforce has been set up to improve communication between authorities on births in New South Wales, involving the Department of Justice, police, NSW Health, Family and Community Services, and the Ombudsmans Office.

The Attorney-General explains that this is a way to ensure that agencies can work together to assist parents – he assures us that it’s about improving the system, and will not be about penalising parents. He believes that the overwhelming majority of parents register their baby within sixty days, but wants to ensure that no children in New South Wales are left unregistered.

For now, the registry uses emails, letters and phone calls to track down parents who have not officially registered their child’s birth, but does not visit them in person. If they cannot make contact with the parents, they are supposed to refer the case to Family and Community Services.

Obstetrician Andrew Pesce, the Sydney West Health Service head of Women’s Health and former Australian Medical Association president, questions the proficiency of the current system. Although abandoned babies are said to be very rare, Dr Pesce wonders how they know it is a rare event without a proper system in place.

You will have probably noticed a loophole in the system set up to close the loopholes in the system – LifeLink will only be of assistance if the baby was born in a hospital. One of the issues with the baby girl found in the sand dunes is that she doesn’t appear to have been born in a hospital, thus there is no way to find her parents’ identity through hospital records.

It suggests that desperate mothers may be frightened to go to hospital to give birth, or to seek out a registered midwife for a homebirth, leaving them and their babies extremely vulnerable, and completely outside the system. LifeLink will not fix this problem, and could possibly even act as a further discouragement. I don’t know what can be done in such cases, and nobody else seems to know either.

Although details seem fairly vague at this stage, it does suggest that parents in New South Wales would probably be wise to register their baby’s name within the sixty-day period from next year to avoid unwanted contact from government agencies. And as we’ve learned from Scarlett’s story, changing a baby’s name in New South Wales is somewhat problematic as the original name is not just “wiped out”, so you need to be really sure of the baby’s name before you register it.

It will be interesting to see if other states follow New South Wales’ lead.

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