SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — An Indiana senator said Friday he plans to work on legislation that would allow the use of baby boxes, in which a mother could anonymously give up her newborn, in the wake of state child welfare officials warning that under current law the woman could face child-abandonment charges.
Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said he understands the concerns about baby boxes expressed by Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura in letters obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, saying the General Assembly needs to make sure safeguards are in place to ensure the safety of the boxes.
"There are just a lot of issues that we have to look at," Holdman said. "Director Bonaventura is a reasonable person and if she sees possible harm in a program, I trust her judgment."
Among the issues he said the General Assembly needs to address is coming up with regulations about the boxes having alarms to notify authorities when a baby is dropped off, a system of inspection for the boxes to make sure they are working and a requirement that organizations are responsible for removing the boxes if they aren't going to keep them up-to-date.
Holdman said there could be a concern some organization would abandon the program and forget to remove the box. "You come back a week later and find a dead child in the box," he said.
Bonaventura, in a letter to Monica Kelsey, founder of the nonprofit group Safe Haven Baby Boxes, recommended the organization contact the Federal Drug Administration and the Consumer Products Safety Commission to "assess compliance with applicable federal laws and standards to prevent any regulatory gap." Bonaventura said the Indiana Department of Health does not have oversight of the boxes.
The General Assembly passed a law in April 2015 requiring the Health Department to come up with recommendations regarding standards and protocols for "newborn safety incubators." It also required the Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children, which Holdman is a member of, to develop recommendations for "new methods or mechanisms for carrying out policies relating to abandoned children."
Instead, in November 2015, the commission voted not to endorse the law passed by the General Assembly and instead voted to promote the existing Safe Haven Law. The DCS and Department of Health issued a statement earlier this year saying: "There is simply no evidence to suggest the use of baby boxes is a safe or prudent way to surrender a child. For this reason, the installation of baby boxes is not a state-led or endorsed endeavor."
James Bopp, an attorney for Safe Haven Baby Boxes, said he believes the baby boxes are legal, and Kelsey plans to continue the program.
Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, said she doesn't know what the legislature will do about baby boxes, but she opposes the concept because she prefers babies being left with people who know what to do.
"I just think the whole idea is not particularly safe for the baby," she said.