WOODBURN, Ind. (WANE) – Two baby boxes installed in Indiana are intended to help save abandoned babies under the Safe Haven law, but two state agencies question their safety and efficacy.
“Anytime you change legislation or the way that people do things, it’s always going to be a rocky road, but the end result is what you have to keep your eye on,” Monica Kelsey said.
For the last 15 months, Kelsey’s been working on developing Safe Haven Baby Boxes. It’s a mission close to the Woodburn
firefighter and paramedic’s heart; she was abandoned when she was an infant. She said seeing the first baby box installed on her birthday, April 19, at 8:09 p.m., the exact minute her mother left her at an Ohio hospital 43 years ago, was surreal.
“Knowing that I was abandoned and now I’m saving abandoned babies is a good feeling,” she said.
Indiana’s Safe Haven law allows someone to give up an unharmed baby up to 30 days old at a hospital, police station or fire station without fear of getting prosecuted for abandonment. The Department of Child Services confirmed that someone just left a baby in a hospital parking lot early in the morning on May 15. Before this past weekend, 31 babies had been surrendered since the law started in 2001.
Now, two Indiana fire stations have baby boxes where someone could leave the child without having to see or talk to an emergency responder. One is in the Woodburn fire station and the other is in a fire station in Michigan City.
“The box is a last resort,” Kelsey said. “Of course we want these girls giving birth in a hospital under supervision, but they’re not doing that. They’re having these babies alone and they’re dumping them in dumpsters. Our ultimate goal is that no child would ever die from abandonment, but the first part of our program is the most important. That’s getting a woman to call our hotline.”
Since Kelsey’s hotline went live last August, she said they’ve seen about 700 calls.
“We’ve assisted hundreds of women get to crisis pregnancy centers in their area. We’ve assisted with three safe surrenders, which were a last resort,” Kelsey said. “But for the women who won’t call the hotline, we have to have a last resort available for them, otherwise we’ll keep finding dead babies in our country.”
When the outside door of the baby box is opened, a 911 call goes out. Once a child is placed inside the box, another alarm is sent.
The outside door locks once it’s closed. There is a fire-retardant mat inside the box and it’s climate controlled, staying between 95 and 101 degrees.
Kelsey said the box is made of heavy plastic by Fabcore Industries and two other companies make the other components.
“This is nothing that we built in the backyard of our home. This is something that we’ve been designing for 15 months. The box has been changed eight times and the electronics changed 23 times. Three companies built the boxes. They are all organizations that have been in business for years. They test it. They then give their final okay before we install it and then we do numerous tests,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey said in the 60 or 70 run-throughs they’ve done, they’ve had zero fails and the fastest response time to the baby was two minutes and forty seconds. No response time was longer than four minutes, she said.
While emergency personnel test them with training, there aren’t any official protocols to regulate the baby boxes. In a statement to 15 Finds Out, the heads of the Indiana State Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Child Services said they don’t endorse the baby boxes and “there’s no evidence to suggest baby boxes are a safe or prudent way to surrender a child.”
Last year, House Enrolled Act 1016 called for the health department and the Commission on Improving the Status of Children to provide recommendations for the installation and use of baby boxes.
“We wanted the health department to create safety standards, protocols and procedures and they failed to do that,” Kelsey said.
The commission recommended that baby boxes not be used to surrender babies and that more resources should instead be put into the existing Safe Haven law.
“That’s not what legislation asked them to do,” Kelsey said. “They knew [the boxes] were coming and they did not do their job.”
Representative Casey Cox (R-District 85) authored the bill and in a letter exchange with State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams, Adams said there’s no precedent for safety standards in the U.S. or abroad and any “device designed to house an abandoned baby should undergo certification and testing to standards set by the FDA.”
“With the help of our attorneys, we did make polices and procedures for baby boxes because the health department failed us,” Kelsey said.
15 Finds Out requested a copy of those policies, but as of Wednesday night, Kelsey’s attorney had not supplied them.
“We actually just contacted a company to safety certify our boxes,” Kelsey said. “We’ve hired an outside company to certify them because of the negativity that’s coming from individuals questioning it. That’s in the works right now and when that becomes available, we’ll release that information.”
Kelsey would not say what company is doing that testing, when it started, when it’s expected to be finished or if the baby boxes will have a government certification, like a UL or ETA number, when it’s completed.
“We started safety testing 15 months ago. We didn’t build these in the back shop of our home. This has been 15 months in the making with three companies in the Fort Wayne area making these. We’ll release this information when it becomes available,” she said.
In the meantime, Kelsey said two more baby boxes will be installed in Indiana in the next month or so and three more could be going in not long after that. She wouldn’t give specifics on where those locations are, but said one is a hospital.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes is a non-profit and donations are paying for the boxes, Kelsey said.
For more on Safe Haven laws across the country, visit the National Safe Haven Alliance.
Safe Haven Hotlines: