WOODBURN, Ind. (WANE) The director of the Indiana Department of Child Services is calling for the two baby boxes in Indiana to be shut down and for no more from being installed.
In letters obtained by 15 Finds Out, Mary Beth Bonaventura said baby boxes are “not an authorized way to protect abandoned infants under current Indiana law.”
But in a response letter, Safe Haven Baby Boxes’s attorney, Jim Bopp, Jr., said the Safe Haven law does not require closing baby boxes.
The intention of the baby boxes is to provide a place to for mothers to leave their unwanted newborn anonymously, but Bonaventura said her agency would investigate use of the box as a case of abandonment.
“Some desperate woman are just not willing to hand their baby over to someone. They need to do this anonymously and the baby box serves that need,” Bopp told NewsChannel 15.
Indiana’s Safe Haven law allows someone to leave an unharmed, unwanted newborn up 30 days old with an emergency medical services provider without fear of prosecution.
The Department of Child Services said baby boxes don’t fall under that law because the baby has to be physically given to an emergency repsonder. Baby Safe Haven’s attorney disagrees, saying the law just says the provider will “take custody of the child.” Bopp argued the baby is left in a baby box and the emergency personnel then take custody of the child from the box.
“This is an option to save a baby,” Bopp told 15 Finds Out. “Whether the woman is charged or not, the baby is saved versus having the baby thrown in a dumpster or in the woods.”
Monica Kelsey developed the baby boxes and one was installed in the Woodburn fire station in April. Another baby box is also in a fire station in Michigan City. Kelsey said some women don’t want the face-to-face interaction that the state says is required under the Safe Haven law and the boxes provide a place for them to leave their child instead of dumping the baby in the woods or a dumpster.
While Bonaventura’s letter requested stopping the use of baby boxes and the installation of more, Bopp’s response letter said they have no intention of doing either, calling the request “an arbitrary demand of a government agency without any legal authority.”
Two more baby boxes are online and ready to be installed in urban areas in Indiana. There are also plans in the works to install one in Ohio. Bopp said the goal is to install 30 more within the next year.
Friday State Sen. Travis Holdman told 15 Finds Out he’s in favor of baby boxes, but said there needs to be more discussion and guidelines to ensure their safety. He plans to work to bring new legislation in the next legislative session.
“There’s a gap in the code we need to fill and take a look at,” he said. “I’d like [the baby boxes representatives] to help us draft some language to relieve the DSC angst by putting enough safe guards in place.”
Last session a committee was asked to review the Safe Haven law and baby boxes to come up with guidelines. The committee determined baby boxes were not proven to be effective or safe and should be regulated by a federal agency.
“Rather than do what the legislature asked them do, which was provide safety protocols, they just said they don’t think they ought to be legal,” Bopp said. “We still hope they’ll do their job and help us make them as safe as can be.”
In lieu of state-directed policies and procedures, Kelsey said she and her attorneys drafted their own guidelines. In May, when 15 Finds Out asked for a copy, Kelsey said “I can ask my attorney if that’s something we can do.” Kelsey told us she had asked her attorney and not heard back. Then Friday when 15 Finds Out asked Bopp for a copy of the safety guidelines they created, he said Kelsey would have to give permission. In an email, the request was denied saying, “our client does not approve, so we will not provide.”
Kelsey and Bopp said the baby box parts are safety tested by the manufacturer and an independent lab is doing safety testing. But, more questions about that testing still aren’t being answered, other than it’s not the Food & Drug Administration or the Consumer Products Safety Commission doing the testing.
“No government agency is involved because there’s no federal or state law that regulates baby boxes. The vast majority of things in the United States are not regulated by the government,” he said.
Since the Safe Haven law was put in place in 2001, 31 babies have been surrendered according to the state. But, in Bopps letter to the governor’s office, he said 34 more babies have been illegally abandoned and almost all have died.
“Since the baby boxes opened, we’ve had more than 700 calls to our hotline and have saved four babies,” Bopp said. “If it wasn’t for opening the baby boxes, those four babies would be dead and that’s unacceptable to us.”
Those four babies were not actually put in baby boxes, but the hotline assisted the mothers in a safe surrender, Bopp said.
DCS declined an interview Friday and have not responded to Bopps letter yet.
There are multiple phone hotlines in place to help mothers who are considering abandonment: