DCS director: Baby box lawsuit a possibility

Mary Beth Bonaventura is the director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – In letters to Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura asked for baby boxes to be shut down. Now that a third location is expected to go online at the end of the month, Bonaventura told 15 Finds Out in an exclusive interview that legal action may be the next step.

“We would have to file legal action to bring a temporary restraining order or something like that and the court would hear both sides and determine whether or not it should operate in the manner they’re operating in,” Bonaventura said. “I don’t think we should put babies in a box and Indiana law does not allow us to do that and not be prosecuted civilly and criminally.”

Bonaventura and the state health department have always maintained that someone who puts an infant in a baby box would not be covered by the safe haven law because the law requires the baby to physically be handed to an emergency medical provider. The attorneys for the baby boxes argue the law does not specifically require a person-to-person exchange. When 15 Finds Out asked two independent attorneys to analyze the law, they said there’s a gray area.

“I disagree,” Bonaventura told 15 Finds Out. “I think if you look at the legislative history of the proposed law where they tried to get baby box language in the law and it was purposely removed from the statute and there was an overact on the part of legislators to remove baby box language out of the statute, it’s clear it was never intended for that to be the case.”

“I don’t think we should put babies in a box and Indiana law does not allow us to do that.” – Mary Beth Bonaventura, DCS Director

She’s not opposed to the legislature taking up the issue again to make the law more explicitly clear.

“Either we clarify for those who are confused about the statute and specifically say they’re not allowed or go back to the drawing board and see if the public will is to have baby boxes. If we do, I think we’re taking steps backwards. The countries that have had them are giving them up because they’re not effective. I trust that that people of the state and the legislature and that what’s right for kids and families will end up happening,” Bonaventura said.

Right now, she said, putting an infant in a baby box would be the same as leaving it in a box on the door step of a fire station and an investigation would be launched.

Baby box in Woodburn
Baby box in Woodburn

Safe Haven Baby Boxes is in the process of installing the third baby box in the state in a Christian center in South Bend. The other two boxes were installed in fire stations in Woodburn and Michigan City. The new location is especially concerning to Bonaventura.

“I think it’s concerning because maybe an argument, I don’t buy it, but maybe there’s a reasonable person out there that could believe that putting a box in a fire station is sort of conforming to the statute because there are emergency fire people in there. But, how is that true in the other location? It’s just not and it’s not safe. Those boxes haven’t been approved by the FDA or by the consumer product people to say this is okay. We have to put babies in certain car seats to conform to best practices, but we’re going to have a box created somewhere by someone to do something? It’s just not right,” Bonaventura.

Monica Kelsey, the creator of the baby boxes, told 15 Finds Out in May that the manufacturers did safety testing and that she tests the devices every day. She said there have been no issues. If a baby would be placed in the baby box, an alarm would be sent through the 911 system to dispatch an emergency responder to the box. All the test runs had someone at the box between two minutes and forty seconds and four minutes.

In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo Monica Kelsey, a firefighter and medic who is president of Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc., poses with a prototype of a baby box. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo Monica Kelsey, a firefighter and medic who is president of Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc., poses with a prototype of a baby box. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Kelsey also said they were conducting independent safety testing, but would not release to 15 Finds Out the name of the company doing the testing, what the testing entailed or when it would be finished.

“That’s very concerning,” Bonaventura said. “You would think if they have it they would be shouting to the mountain tops that they have it the way they are that they have boxes.”

Before taking the top job at DCS, Bonaventura served as a juvenile judge for more than three decades. She told 15 Finds Out she also has concerns that the boxes could be misused.

“I think about the boyfriend or the stepdad or the dad who’s mad she had the baby and says, ‘Give me that baby. That baby isn’t staying here.’ and puts that kid in the box because we would have no way of knowing. So, what about somebody who’s forced to do that. I’m always looking at the ‘what ifs’ because of all the terrible things I’ve seen over the last 35 years of doing this work and I don’t think that’s a chance we should take,” Bonaventura said.

While a lot of letters have been exchanged over the last few months, the next step in the controversy isn’t clear.

“I don’t have a plan to tell you. We did meet with Monica Kelsey and her attorney … and we were hoping cooler heads would prevail and reasonable minds would think alike, but they have decided [installing another box] is the route they want to take. From my side, we need to talk. Now that they’re branching out into places that are not emergency medically involved, it might take further steps on my part as head of this agency to determine what our options are. Is it a lawsuit? Future discussion? I don’t know yet. I hope we don’t have a future [for baby boxes]. The countries that had them, the data shows, abandonments didn’t go down. That’s the whole point. Let’s put a baby box in and abandonments will go down, but that proved to not be the truth.”


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