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D.C. Family Detoured by Mixed Signals

The city requires health workers to report any suspicion of abuse or neglect. "The littlest kids are at the highest risk," says Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for child services. "If someone leaves the hospital AMA with an infant, this is an investigator who's giving the parent an opportunity to do the right thing. Get this checked out, and we'll go away."

"Everybody here did their job," says Katie Bertram, a lawyer who is Georgetown's director of risk management. "The system worked. The kid's okay. The parents thought they did the best thing, too. But what if everything wasn't okay?"

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Bertram's job is to guard against those occasions. The parents' job is to do right by their child.

"I understand no parent likes child services at their door," Goldberg says. "This is a very hard thing for physicians to do. They're there to serve and care and not to be the police. But this is a good story -- it shows it didn't matter what socioeconomic group the family belonged to. We acted in the best interests of the child."

No one in this case violated any rules. Yet the Basses feel wronged. And taxpayer money was wasted investigating a family that wasn't even in the same universe with abuse and neglect cases.

The Basses would have followed the doctors' advice if the parents believed that the baby's health was the only factor at work. But in a medical system in which lawyers and liability play all too huge a role, too often medical advice arrives massaged by legal cautions. Where trust should reign, the result, sadly, is a tangle of suspicions.

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