Baby Box infants could be adopted more quickly under state proposal

Pictured is a Safe Haven Baby Box; Photo provided.
By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Indiana Capital Chronicle

INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal just one step away from Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk could get infants surrendered under the state’s safe haven laws to adoptive families more quickly.

But some lawmakers fear its provisions could violate the rights of regretful or unaware biological parents. New anti-vaccine provisions also snarled debate.

“This is probably the best thing that we have ever done,” said bill author Travis Holdman, R-Markle, of Indiana’s 20-year-old safe haven law.


He told lawmakers earlier this month that it saves infants and can help desperate biological parents.

The law allows people to give up unwanted infants anonymously – as long as there are no signs of abuse – and lays out procedures for safe surrenders and legal custodies.

Shift emphasizes outside agencies, adoptions

Holdman’s Senate Bill 345 defines a safe haven infant as one 30 days old or younger and who’s been voluntarily left by a parent with an emergency medical services provider or in a newborn safety device often called a baby box.

The Department of Child Services has taken surrendered infants into custody for the last two decades. The legislation would let licensed child-placing agencies do the same.

“DCS, it sort of gets bogged down in the bureaucracy,” Holdman told the Capital Chronicle. “I believe it’s just another opportunity for a licensed child-placing agency to stand in the place of DCS, and just to provide more options for those families that are interested in adopting infants.”

Holdman’s proposal attempts to skip foster placements in favor of adoption. It tasks the outside agencies with placing infants into pre-approved adoptive homes “without unnecessary delay.”

DCS had one infant in its custody for a whopping 22 months, the bill’s House sponsor — Joanna King, R-Middlebury — said on the floor this month.

She said getting placing agencies involved could get children “placed with their forever famil(ies) much sooner.”

The goal is to “minimize the number of moves that a child’s going to have. We want to provide security as soon as possible,” Adoptions of Indiana leader Meg Sterchi told lawmakers at a hearing.

That placement doesn’t mean biological parents can’t return and assert their rights, she said.

But the legislation does make it easier and faster to eliminate those rights.

Fights over parental rights

Senate Bill 345 requires DCS and the outside agencies to file petitions — within 15 days of taking custody — to terminate the legal relationship between surrendered infants and their biological parents.

The proposal lays out what that petition should include and how to give public notice on it, so that parents who regret the surrender or didn’t know of the infant can take the child back.

But if they don’t respond to the public notices or ask for custody within 28 days, the legislation says they’re “irrevocably” implying consent to the ending of their parental rights.

Multiple lawmakers of both parties — most of them lawyers by trade — said the time period was too short, and that biological parents should get more opportunity to go to court.

Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, noted in a hearing last month that it’s an “irreversible decision to terminate parental rights.” Later, she expressed concern for fathers who don’t know of their children.

“We’re talking [less than] 30 days for them to discover that they have a child and come forward without any more information than ‘Baby Boy X has been surrendered,’” Glick said.

Adoptions of Indiana’s Sterchi countered that fathers have the entire nine months of the pregnancy in addition to the proposed time period.

“Having sex with a woman is notice enough that there could be a pregnancy,” Sterchi said. “… There has to be some responsibility on the part of the father to engage.”

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The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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