The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 05, 2018 1:00 am


Safer surrenders

Promotion of existing law is best approach

“We saved a baby's life!” Warren Smith, assistant chief of the Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Department, said after an infant was found in the baby box at his La Porte County department's station last fall.

The box is one of two being operated under a special provision of a law passed by last year's General Assembly. The other box is at the fire station in Woodburn, where Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, works as a firefighter and medic. The newborn discovered Nov. 7 was the first to have been left at either facility.

Kelsey argues that the boxes are a last-resort but safe alternative for parents who have decided to abandon their babies but might otherwise, for instance, leave an infant in a Dumpster on a cold night. Placing a child in the heated, automatically locking box triggers an alarm. In this case, the fire department's chief was able to respond within minutes and summon medical personnel, and the baby is said to be fine.

But as Indiana health and child welfare officials have stressed, leaving a baby in an untended box is not a recommended “last resort” – especially since Indiana already has a Safe Haven Law that allows parents to give up their babies safely but anonymously. Unless the infant shows evidence of abuse, a mother or father can surrender a child to a police officer, a firefighter or any licensed medical person without having to provide a name or any other information.

Tragically, even since the law was enacted in 2001, there have been times when parents desperate to avoid detection have left babies to die at remote sites. But the focus should be on getting the word out – making sure young people understand there is a safe and lawful alternative as near as any police, fire or medical facility – or even a passing police car.

Last year, the legislature passed a bill authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, that allows hospitals that are staffed 24 hours a day to operate baby boxes if they are in a location “conspicuous and visible to hospital staff.” The Woodburn and Coolspring fire department boxes, which were installed the year before, were grandfathered into the law, but that should have ended the push to add more boxes at fire stations.

Now, Holdman wants to revisit the law he wrote last year, making it possible for other fire stations to sponsor baby boxes.

This is not a good idea, as both the Indiana State Department of Health and the state Department of Child Services have argued in the past.

Both departments have been undergoing leadership changes, and Holdman told The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly Wednesday that he's unsure what the health agency's ongoing position will be.

But in an email Thursday, state health spokesperson Jennifer O'Malley wrote that though the department does not have jurisdiction over baby boxes, it “will be monitoring the legislation. We believe the existing Safe Haven law offers a safe, effective means to surrender a baby in a way that protects both mother and child.” 

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