New Ohio law adds “baby box” language

This baby box is in the Woodburn fire station.
This baby box is in the Woodburn fire station.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A new law in Ohio now includes “baby boxes” as a way for a parent to surrender his or her unwanted newborn child. Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 332, which is aimed at lowering the state’s infant mortality rate, into law last week. The section reads, in part, “A parent may voluntarily deliver his or her child who is not older than thirty days, without intent to return for the child, to … a newborn safety incubator … ” The law also calls for the health department to create regulations for the incubators.

“We’re excited that Ohio has allowed us to bring these boxes into Ohio. They’re doing the policies, protocols and procedures we wanted Indiana to do and we’re working directly with them,” Monica Kelsey, the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, said. “I’m hoping this educates all of us and that the policies, protocols and procedures that Ohio comes up with, maybe Indiana can adopt as well. This was never about putting boxes in buildings. It’s about saving abandoned babies.”

There are two baby boxes installed in Indiana at the fire stations in Woodburn and Michigan City. The idea is for someone to give up their unwanted newborn anonymously by leaving the child in the baby box.  15 Finds Out has been uncovering the controversy surrounding the boxes for months. At the heart of part of the debate is whether or not someone would be protected by Indiana Safe Haven Law if he or she leaves an infant in the box.

The Department of Child Services says baby boxes aren’t covered by the Safe Haven Law because that law requires a person-to-person transfer of the child. Others argue the law can be interpreted to include a baby box at a fire or police station as an emergency responder.

“This is a last resort option. This is for that mother who will not go into the fire station and will not do a parenting plan and will not do an adoption plan. One day we’ll have that mother on our hotline and we want to have the option there so we don’t have another baby Amelia out of Indianapolis dumped in the woods,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey said she worked with the authors of the Ohio bill to get the language changed to include what the law calls “newborn safety incubators.”

Tuesday the Department of Child Services told 15 Finds Out that Ohio’s changes don’t change their stance on baby boxes.

“Child welfare laws are different state to state, thus I think it would be inappropriate to talk about what’s going on in another state,” James Wide, the Deputy Director of Communications for DCS, said. “However, I can say that we’re seeking to amend Indiana statute to clarify that baby boxes and other location drop-offs are unsuitable uses of Indiana’s Safe Haven statute. DCS’ position is unchanged, as we believe this is a child safety issue and object to the use of such boxes as a substitute for surrendering an infant into the arms of a person.”

State Rep. Martin Carbaugh and State Sen. Travis Holdman both have filed bills at the statehouse this session that deal with baby boxes in Indiana.

“My proposed legislation won’t change existing Safe Haven laws. If passed, it would provide civil immunity to first responders, in connection with the safe haven boxes that already exist in Northeast Indiana,” Carbaugh said in an email to 15 Finds Out.

Holdman told 15 Finds Out on the phone that he’s still working with DCS to work out language of his bill and he’d like to at least see baby boxes in fire stations that are staffed 24/7. The Woodburn fire station is volunteer. If the box is used, it would send out a dispatch alarm and a firefighter would respond to the station. Kelsey said in their test runs, a responder arrived in a few minutes. The fastest response time to the baby was two minutes and forty seconds. No response time was longer than four minutes.

15 Finds Out will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Below are the sections of the new Ohio law that pertain to the baby boxes and the regulations the state has to create for them.

SB 332: Infant Mortality

Sec. 2151.3516. A parent may voluntarily deliver his or her child who is not older than thirty days, without intent to return for the child, to a person specified in section 2151.3517 of the Revised Code or a newborn safety incubator provided by an entity described in that section that meets the requirements of section 2151.3532 of the Revised Code

Sec. 2151.3532. Not later than one hundred eighty days after the effective date of this section, the director of the department of health shall adopt rules in accordance with Chapter 119. of the Revised Code governing newborn safety incubators provided by entities described in section 2151.3517 of the Revised Code. The rules shall provide for all of the following:

(A) Sanitation standards;
(B) Procedures to provide emergency care for a child delivered to an incubator;
(C) Manufacturing and manufacturer standards;
(D) Design and function requirements that include the following:
(1) Take into account installation at a law enforcement agency, a hospital, or an emergency medical service organization;
(2) Allow a child to be placed anonymously from outside the facility;
(3) Lock the incubator after a child is placed in it so that a person outside the facility is unable to access the child;
(4) Provide a controlled environment for the care and protection of the child;
(5) Provide notification to a centralized location in the facility within thirty seconds of a child being placed in the incubator;
(6) Trigger a 9-1-1 call if a facility does not respond within a reasonable amount of time after a child is placed in the facility’s incubator.
(E) Operating policies, supervision, and maintenance requirements for an incubator, including requirements that only a peace officer, emergency medical service worker, or hospital employee supervise the incubator and take custody of a child placed in it;
(F) Qualifications for persons to install incubators;
(G) Procedures and forms for the registration of qualified incubator installers;
(H) Costs for registering and regulating incubators and fees to cover those costs;
(I) Creating and posting signs to be placed near or on incubators to provide information about using them;
(J) Enforcement of and remedies for violations for failure to comply with the requirements governing incubators;
(K) Any other requirement the department considers necessary to ensure the safety and welfare of a child placed in an incubator

See the entire SB 332 here.

Kelsey said her Safe Haven Baby Boxes hotline has been called 879 times with more than a hundred of those calls ending with crisis pregnancy referrals.

“And six of them were Safe Haven surrenders. They walked into a fire station or hospital with us on the phone with them,” Kelsey said.

So far, no babies have been put in either baby box in Indiana.

Kelsey said the plans to add three more in Indiana are still active. She had to take a break from expanding the boxes to deal with a family emergency last summer. She also already has the ball rolling to install a baby box at the Pioneer fire station in Williams County, Ohio.

“The first baby box will go in the county where my mother abandoned me. So 44 years to the day, we are trying to have a baby box in that location to give women another option,” she said.

Another point of the controversy around the baby boxes is the lack of safety regulations and testing. Kelsey said the boxes are still being tested now.

“It’s performance testing because there are no safety standards for these boxes anywhere in the country. We were supposed to get them from the Indiana Department of Health last year. Once we get Ohio standards, we can give them back to the company testing the boxes and we can use those,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey told 15 Finds Out last year that she’d give us the results of the safety testing on the baby boxes when it’s complete.