Baby boxes' acceptance grows in Indiana along with new boxes

“Now in Indiana women are choosing to surrender safely,” said Monica Kelsey, the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.

Posted: Apr 27, 2020 9:03 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — “She was absolutely meant to be.”

That’s what Jennifer Melgoza says about her 7-month-old daughter Grace – a baby dropped off in a newborn incubator, also known as a baby box – last September.

“We were saving Grace, but she’s our saving grace,” Melgoza said.

The infant is one of six babies found in an incubator since the first installation in Woodburn in April 2016. Now there are 25 boxes around the state of Indiana and several more are in Ohio, Arkansas and Arizona.

The most recent baby was left in New Haven in February – a healthy newborn girl.

“Now in Indiana women are choosing to surrender safely,” said Monica Kelsey, the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes. She is a former firefighter and medic from Woodburn who was abandoned at birth herself.

“It’s there if a woman chooses it,” Kelsey said of the boxes. ’It’s better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

The incubators are containers with a door to the outside of a fire station building or a hospital. When opened, an alarm sounds to alert on-duty staff, nearby volunteers or emergency dispatchers. The boxes are climate-controlled, containing warming and cooling features, and lock after use.

The boxes have proliferated slowly – costs are about $10,000 to install – despite staunch opposition to them under then-Gov. Mike Pence. Jerome Adams, the current U.S. surgeon general, also opposed them when he was Indiana’s state health commissioner.

Adams and Mary Beth Bonaventura, the former director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, issued a joint statement in 2017 saying the boxes are “not a state-led or endorsed behavior” and that there is “simply no evidence to suggest the use of baby boxes is a safe, prudent way to surrender a child.”

But lawmakers kept pushing to legalize them as an option to Indiana’s Safe Haven law.

Under Indiana law a person can give up an infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution. As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse, no information is required of the person leaving the baby.

But even under that law Indiana saw dozens of infants illegally abandoned – some found dead in restrooms, woods or dumpsters.

Kelsey notes there have been no dead abandoned newborns since 2015.

She said the baby boxes are just one part of a program that includes a national hotline. In all, her program has 72 saves. The majority involve a woman calling the hotline and a counselor meeting the woman who agrees to hand the child over.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, pushed the bill and said it’s going well. He acknowledged the cost is somewhat prohibitive but that private donors have stepped forward.

In one case, a teenager raised the money by mowing lawns and installed one for a senior project.

Holdman said he is glad DCS stopped opposing the boxes under Gov. Eric Holcomb.

“It was actually embarrassing that they would fight against that. They wanted the ability to go after the father if there was child molesting and sexual abuse,” Holdman said. “We had to look to the greater good, which was the argument that won the day.”

Kelsey acknowledged that she brought a program to the U.S. and launched it in Indiana when there were a lot of unknowns and questions.

“I do believe that (the Department of Child Services) has seen the success of the baby box and it starting to maybe warm up,” she said.

DCS spokeswoman Noelle Russell said the agency is unaffiliated with the program and complies with the Safe Haven law provided by statute.

A department report shows 51 newborns have been surrendered under the law since July 2008. But the report doesn’t differentiate between baby box drop-offs and other Safe Haven surrenders.

Department of Child Services places all of the children – that is how Grace came to be with Jennifer and Mario Melgoza.

The couple were unable to have children and decided to adopt an older child. They went through the process for five or six different children but weren’t chosen by the agency.

“I really felt like maybe it wasn’t meant to be,” Jennifer said.

Then in September 2019 she learned from news reports that a baby had been placed in the baby box in their Hammond neighborhood.

They submitted a home study to adopt her. A few weeks went by, and the couple stopped talking about it and assumed DCS had chosen another family.

Jennifer was at work when she got a call from Department of Child Services to do an interview for the baby girl.

Within a few days of that interview Grace came home with them.

“She is the happiest most playful thing ever. She is always smiling and talks so much,” Jennifer said.

And Grace loves to be around her cousins – one just turned 1 and another is going to be 2.

“During quarantine we FaceTime, and they just scream at each other,” Jennifer said.

The Melgozas are open to meeting Grace’s biological mom one day – if she is ready.

“I would love to meet her just to tell her thank you,” she said.

Kelsey said one mother who used a baby box last year left a two-page letter with the newborn explaining her actions.

“I didn’t want to have to justify my reasoning to anyone,” the mother wrote.

__

Source: The Journal Gazette

West Lafayette
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 80°
Kokomo
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 73°
Rensselaer
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 68°
Fowler
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 68°
Williamsport
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 75°
Crawfordsville
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 69°
Frankfort
Overcast
74° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 74°
Delphi
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 73°
Monticello
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 95° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 73°
Logansport
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 47432

Reported Deaths: 2687
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11546683
Lake5104242
Elkhart321144
Allen2737129
St. Joseph190866
Cass16389
Hamilton1538100
Hendricks1390100
Johnson1256118
Porter72037
Tippecanoe6948
Madison65564
Clark64044
Bartholomew58244
Howard56557
LaPorte56326
Kosciusko5354
Vanderburgh5026
Marshall4823
Jackson4693
Noble46928
LaGrange4677
Hancock44035
Boone43743
Delaware43150
Shelby42325
Floyd37144
Morgan32731
Montgomery29320
Grant29126
Clinton2882
Monroe27628
Dubois2666
White26010
Henry25815
Decatur24932
Lawrence24225
Vigo2318
Dearborn22823
Harrison21222
Warrick21229
Greene18532
Miami1822
Jennings17411
Putnam1688
DeKalb1604
Scott1607
Daviess14216
Orange13623
Wayne1366
Steuben1282
Perry1279
Franklin1248
Ripley1157
Jasper1142
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette987
Newton9810
Starke923
Whitley905
Randolph784
Huntington742
Jefferson722
Wells711
Fulton691
Jay680
Washington681
Gibson672
Knox640
Pulaski641
Clay604
Rush563
Adams501
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Posey380
Blackford372
Spencer371
Crawford300
Fountain302
Tipton301
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike100
Unassigned0193

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events