“Baby Boxes” May Soon Save Lives in Michigan

Mothers who cannot care for a child can surrender their newborn confidentially

The Michigan State Capitol in Lansing
The Michigan State Capitol in Lansing (photo: Andrew Martin, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes, for one reason or another, an expectant mother feels unable to care for her baby. Perhaps she is unmarried, and she lacks the financial or emotional resources to raise a child. Perhaps she faces pressure from her boyfriend, parents, or employer to end the pregnancy. A child conceived under such adverse circumstances is more likely to face possible abuse, abandonment, or even abortion.

But proposed legislation now on the governor's desk in Michigan offers another option for mothers who feel they cannot keep their newborn infant. Newborns whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them can be safely and confidentially surrendered to an emergency service provider in a specially designed “baby box.”

The bill, which passed Dec. 20 with strong bipartisan support in both the Michigan House and Senate, has been sent to Governor Rick Snyder for final approval. Snyder, who could not run for a third term because of term limits legislation, will end his service as Michigan's governor on Dec. 31, and is expected to sign the bill into law during his last week in office.

The proposed legislation would expand protections already in place under Michigan's existing Safe Delivery of Newborns Law. That older law, which was passed in 2000, permitted parents to anonymously surrender a newborn within 72 hours after birth; under the new law, parents would have 30 days to surrender their infant. The Safe Delivery of Newborns Law permitted parents to take a child to a hospital, police or fire station; the baby box adds a layer of anonymity for parents who want to surrender a child, but who may be afraid of face-to-face contact. The parent will have 28 days in which to reclaim the infant, after which the baby will be placed for adoption. Representative Bronna Kahle, who sponsored the legislation, called the new law a “win-win. It’s a win for everyone. It's a win for the mom and a win for the child.”

The baby boxes would be installed at hospitals, fire stations, and police stations. They are climate-controlled, will lock from the outside once the infant is placed in the box, and will trigger an alarm when the newborn is placed in them.

According to supporters of the “baby box,” the newborn would be picked up by emergency personnel within just a few minutes of being placed in the box. However, opponents of the newborn safety device express concern that the box could malfunction – for example, failing to trigger an alarm. An amendment in the final version of the bill holds the manufacturer liable for any injury or death resulting from use of the device.

In Indiana, where two baby boxes have been in use in hospitals since 2000, more than 200 babies have been surrendered and placed for adoption as a result of the program. Monica Kelsey, an Indiana native who was herself abandoned and adopted as an infant, is the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, a nonprofit corporation which makes baby boxes available to requesting communities and which covers the cost of manufacture, installation and maintenance. Kelsey explained:

Safe Haven Baby Boxes have been introduced in multiple states and are accessible to mothers who desire to utilize the anonymity of the Safe Haven Law. Our research found that some women want complete anonymity and are dropping off their newborns at the doors of fire stations and hospitals without doing the face to face interaction. In one situation a newborn baby boy was placed at the entrance of a hospital in a card board box and when the child was finally found the child had frozen to death and was deceased. 

Safe Haven Baby Boxes allows a mother to place her unwanted child in a  safe haven baby box that is outside of selected fire stations.  These boxes are equipped with a heating and cooling feature and are equipped with ADT silent alarm trips so emergency personal will be notified within 30 seconds that there is a newborn placed in the box. The child will then be picked up by EMS within 3-5 minutes.  The Safe Haven Baby Box is a last resort option for women in crisis.