'Baby Boxes' In Indiana Are Helping Desperate Moms Give Their Newborns To Safe Homes

"If I can get one woman to not dump her child in a dumpster... and bring her child to me, then I've done my job."

On the exterior of a fire station wall in Indiana is a large, rectangular box that looks a lot like a mailbox. But instead of packages, the box is intended for the delivery of something even more precious: newborns.

Monica Kelsey is the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which she describes as a "last resort" option for desperate mothers who are considering abandoning their children. Kelsey, who was abandoned in 1973 by her mother, has helped install two boxes in her home state of Indiana, and with some minor reform to Safe Haven laws across the country, she's crossing her fingers that there will soon be many more. 

"I would hope in a perfect world this would never be needed, but this is not a perfect world," Kelsey told A Plus. "Women are dumping their babies in trash cans and dumpsters and running away so nobody sees them. If they are going to do that anyway, would they come to a safe place and put them in a box?"

But these aren't just any ordinary boxes. As Kelsey put it in her interview with A Plus, "We're not just putting boxes in buildings and walking away saying, 'Well, we hope they work!'"  On the contrary, the boxes are temperature-controlled, and include a small mattress and an alarm system to alert authorities that they've been opened. They have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Save Haven Baby Boxes is also working with the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (USPC) and Homeland Security. 

When someone, presumably a desperate mother, is considering abandoning their child, they may call the Safe Haven Baby Boxes hotline. There, they'll get crisis parenting guidance, given advice on adoption, or — as a last resort — or be told where a Safe Haven Baby Box location is. There are currently two in Indiana. Kelsey's research found that mothers who abandon their children in unsafe places usually do it for fear of being seen at a pregnancy crisis center. With Safe Haven Baby Boxes, they can drop the infant off anonymously.

When they open the box, an alarm goes out to local authorities. When they close the box, there is a button to press to set off a second alarm. Then, within 3-5 minutes, first responders will arrive to retrieve the baby from the box. From there, children are put into foster care and will hopefully match with adoptive parents after one month. 

Thanks to Safe Haven laws, which exist in all 50 states and allow parents to turn babies in certain places without repercussions, 3,600 babies have been saved in the last 50 years, according to Kelsey. But during the same period, she said, 1,500 babies were illegally dumped and found dead. Others say the data is unclear on how many babies are abandoned each year, but they're certain it's happening. According to Kelsey,  two to three babies used to be found dead in Indiana every year, but since she installed the boxes, it hasn't happened once. In the last six months, two babies have been left in Safe Haven Baby Boxes in Indiana.

"If I can get one woman to not dump her child in a dumpster, not dump her child in a trash can, and bring her child to me, then I've done my job," Kelsey said. 

Monica Kelsey, a firefighter and founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
Monica Kelsey, a firefighter and founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes. Safe Haven Baby Boxes

When Kelsey finally met her biological mother, she said it was "one of the best and worst days of my life." Her biological mother was 17 years old when she was attacked, raped, and left on the side of the road in 1972. Her mother pressed charges against her rapist and he was convicted, but at the time, Kelsey said, high school students' pregnancies were often hidden due to stigma. So when Kelsey was born, her mother abandoned her.

"Getting to know her and the circumstances concerning my abandonment gives me empathy for these women who find themselves in crisis that are just looking for a safe space to surrender their child and to not be seen," Kelsey told A Plus. "I'm not here to judge her. I'm not here to judge her reasoning. I'm here to walk alongside these moms that find themselves in the same situation." 

Safe Haven Baby Boxes

There has been criticism of the boxes. Tim Jaccard, the president and director of The AMT Children of Hope Baby Safe Haven Foundation, who also helped write the original Safe Haven laws, said in a Facebook video that the boxes shouldn't be installed. He laid out a hypothetical scenario in which a mother experiencing domestic abuse might be forced to take a child to a Safe Haven box, and said that being able to see that woman in person gives authorities a better opportunity to analyze the situation. 

Kelsey acknowledged that critics have said the boxes may stop a child from knowing their parents and that when women walk into a fire station to personally hand over their babies, emergency services are then able to offer medical assistance. But she noted that she's not targeting women who are able to give up their babies in person, she's targeting women who might otherwise leave their newborns in dumpsters. 

Now, Safe Haven Baby Boxes is trying to amend the existing Safe Haven Laws to make it legal to leave a child in one of their boxes in states outside of Indiana. They successfully changed the law in  Ohio and Pennsylvania, and are hoping to see a change in Michigan soon, too. 

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