What are Safe Haven Haven Baby Boxes? (SHHB)
Safe Haven Baby Boxes, sometimes called “newborn safety devices” resemble bank and library book depositories where newborns can be dropped off anonymously and legally without question, counseling, or prosecution of parents (usually the mother) or a parental designee. The boxes are installed on the outside walls of fire stations, police stations, hospitals, and emergency medical facilities. They are climate controlled and contain security features, including a 3-alarm system. SHBB and traditional Safe Haven law assume that these newborns are being relinquished for adoption. The“surrenders” must conform to the traditional Safe Haven law of the state where they occur.
Review various definitions that are used when discussing baby boxes.
What is the Safe Haven Baby Box movement?
The Safe Haven Baby Box movement is an evangelical-political movement in the United States working under the contrived banner of “women demand anonymity,”(in pregnancy and birth), that promotes legalized anonymous baby abandonment-by-box through legislation and popular opinion. The movement pushes acceptance and normalization of baby boxing through school, church, and civic “education,” public events such as press conferences and baby box blessings, and social media. The movement is led and fueled by Protestant and Catholic “pro-life” activists seemingly obsessed with “dumpster babies” and “frightened mothers” with no options for their “secret” babies other than discard or death. They promote baby boxes claiming that they allow women to terminate their parental rights and “relinquish for adoption without fear of prosecution,” as if standard adoption relinquishments are illegal. An incurious press, with few exceptions, regurgitates SHBB movement “facts.” It avoids serious investigation of the SHBB agenda, backers, and claims. The hundreds of news articles about the SHBB movement and devices published since 2014 in the American press are nothing more than feel-good “phoned-in” agitprop. Critics, especially adoptee rights and child welfare advocates, are downplayed or ignored.
How did the Safe Haven Baby Box movement begin?
Safe Haven Baby Boxes, the movement and device, are an outgrowth of the legalized infant abandonment movement of the early 2000s known under the generic term of Safe Haven. Safe Haven laws in all 50 states allow parents to legally and anonymously abandon” their newborn infants under certain conditions. See Traditional Safe Haven Law FAQ for details about the original Safe Haven movement.
Are any organizations dedicated to legalizing and installing baby boxes?
The flagship advocate is The Safe Haven Baby Foundation, (SHBB Inc), a 501(3)(c) non-profit located in Woodburn Indiana. The purpose, according to its incorporation papers, is to “provide a safe place and secure, confidential environment to surrender a newborn child. While the baby box is not mentioned in the description, the name of the organization says it all.
A small secondary organization, The Hope Box, in Acworth, Georgia (metro Atlanta) sponsors anti-sex-trafficking and baby box ministries, and lobbies for changes in Georgia law to permit baby box use. Its web and social media pages disseminate incorrect information about newborn discard, Safe Haven laws, and adoption, and espouses wacky ideas on a number of issues. There is much to say about Hope Box, but for the moment our concentration is on SHBB Inc.
Both organizations are rooted in evangelism and prophecy. SHBB Inc bills itself as a “pro-life ministry” and receives huge financial and spiritual support from local churches of various denominations, state and regional Right to Life, and independent anti-abortion groups as well as conservative political and social organizations. Safe Haven Baby Box blessings are mini-prayer meetings featuring Protestant and Catholic clergy and prayers along with evangelical-oriented politicians and other speakers that sometimes romanticize and sentimentalize box abandonment as an act of love, not desperation, sadness, loss, and grief.
Finally local civic and fraternal organizations, motorcycle clubs, and businesses all with little or no knowledge of and experience in child welfare or adoption, privately fund baby boxes.
Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty was the keynote speaker at the 2020 SHBB Inc’s fundraising banquet. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar attended the May 2021 Rogers, Arkansas box blessing.
See our Baby Box Promoters page for details.
Who founded Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Inc?
The founder of SHBB, Inc is Monica Kesley, at the time, a firefighter and EMT with the Woodburn, Indiana Fire Department. Her husband is the mayor of Woodburn. She now works full-time for the organization. Kelsey considers her advocacy a “pro-life”/ anti-abortion and “Christian ministry” for “desperate” pregnant women and new mothers (though fathers aren’t exempt) who she claims “demand anonymity” in pregnancy, childbirth, and relinquishment, and are afraid that traditional Safe Haven procedures will not protect their “anonymity” due to its demands for a personal hand-over at designated facilities.
Kelsey is aided and abetted by Pam Stenzel, aka “the sex lady,” a nationally known “abstinence educator,” anti-abortion/forced birth advocate, purity culture promoter, and CPC coordinator based in Florida. She directs SHBB Inc’s 24-hour hotline, appears on Beyond the Box podcasts on Facebook, and was the 2022 SHBB Inc banquet keynoter. Over the years Stenzel, who received a MA in Marriage and Family Therapy from Liberty University, has come under fire for spreading misinformation to teens about sexuality, sexual health, and STDs.
In late 2013, Kelsey and Stenzel visited South Africa on a 10-day “prolife” speaking tour of schools, maternity homes, and churches (with a side gig of “sidewalk counseling”), where they talked about “sex, abandonment, and abortion,” and Kelsey gave a testimony of “hope” and her own adoption story. At a church in Cape Town, in a neighborhood where infants had been abandoned earlier, they learned about a baby box device operated at the church. Inspired by the mission, Kelsey on the flight back to the US began to formulate a plan to popularize baby boxes in the US and even made a crude box design.
Who pays for Safe Haven Baby Boxes?
SHBB Inc holds the patent on SHBB boxes which are leased through the organization. The total cost, including installation and various fees, is about $16,000.
Boxes are paid for by private donations generated through local community fundraisers and in-kind services such as construction, installation, and security. The lack of taxpayer dollar input is a selling point. In the last few years, however, bills have been introduced, but never moved on, in New Jersey to require all new fire and police stations to include a baby box. The 2022 session of the New Mexico legislature is considering companion bills that authorize $330,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for baby boxes in each county with another $70,000 for “education.” That bill is temporarily tabled by a House motion, and will probably be heard in a Special Session later this year. Sponsors already claim that the funds are allocated. Espanola, in Rio Arriba County on the New Mexico- Colorado border opened a box on February 23, 2022, without an amended law in place, and other cities are reported to have plans to install them.
How many Safe Haven Baby Boxes have been installed in the US?
Over 100 Safe Haven Baby Boxes have been installed. Numbers changes almost weekly. About 80 are located in Indiana. The rest are in Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida. Amendments to traditional Safe Haven laws to allow the use of Safe Haven Baby Boxes have passed in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Maine, and Virginia, but none have been installed in those states. Michigan passed a bill in 2018, but it was vetoed by the governor.
How many babies have been boxed?
So far, 21 babies have been boxed: 18 in Indiana and 3 in Arkansas. The other boxes remain empty.
Do the SHBB movement and SHBB Inc leadership have any relation to adoptees, the adoptee rights movement, or adoption reform?
Both Kelsey and Stenzel are adoptees who say they were conceived through rape. Kelsey was abandoned shortly after birth. There is no evidence that she was dangerously discarded since she says she was left at a hospital 2 hours after birth. Lately, she has implied that God created the circumstances of her birth in order for her “to save the lives of children because my life was saved.” Neither have ties to adoptee rights activism, adoption reform, foster care reform, or adoptee social media such as AdopteeFacebook, AdopteeTwitter, and AdopteeTikTok, all platforms for adoptee rights, rage, and action. They are baffled that adult adoptees and foster care alumni by in-large do not support their baby box scheme.
Kelsey, searched and found her late birthmother, and says she supports search, reunion, and adoptee rights to records, identity, and history She is open about her self-worth and insecurity issues derived from her own adoption and calls baby box work “finding purpose through pain.” Her work, however, countermands her personal history of “pain,” claim by creating that pain via baby boxing for others. Her assertion that she supports adoptee rights is questionable. Her baby box agenda establishes a new layer of secrecy and unaccountability in relinquishment and adoption that leaves no clear access and right to birth records, identity, and origins and dismisses the psychological and emotional harm suffered by adopted people.
Pam Stenzel says that she will meet her birthmother in heaven.
The SHBB Inc board consists of at least one other adopted person, who is not connected to adoptee rights/adoption reform and seems to have no interest in the restoration of adoptee rights. An adoptive mother and Christian radio personality also sit on the board.
Does the SHBB movement and SHBB Inc exploit adopted children and adults?
Yes. One of the most disturbing aspects of the SHBB scheme is the exploitation of children who have gone through the Safe Haven and particularly the SHBB system. Some of them are identified by name and featured, with pictures, in follow-up news stories. Some make frequent personal appearances at SHBB Inc events such as baby box blessings and press conferences. They are portrayed by SHBB Inc as happy toddlers (so far) saved from dangerous discard by mothers who loved them so much that they didn’t kill them. First robbed of their own histories identities, family, and context through SHBB Inc facilitation, they are now used as props and further robbed of their privacy and agency. Their narratives are interpreted and constructed publicly by SHBB Inc and sycophantic media. Their lived experience, though not formed and recognized yet, is transformed from trauma into a hand-of God- miracle-and-gift for their adoptive parents and an advertisement for SHBB Inc.
SHBB Inc promoter Linda Znachko, founder and director of the baby burying organization He Knows Your Name, seems ignorant (or doesn’t care) that a large number of adoptees experience their birthday each year with grief and pain. Reviving the debunked “blank slate” theory that adoptees have no history before their adoption into a “forever family,” she celebrates the day a baby is placed in a box as a “birthday party waiting to happen.” (See video in link for full impact.)
Sentimental puff pieces about reunions between adult adoptees and their biological parents are posted regularly on the SHBB Inc Facebook page with accompanying cognitive dissonant comments such as “This is the kind of story we like.” Other regular posts show us adoptees who have “made it,”–entrepreneurs, tech magnates, beauty queens, athletes (Colin Kaepernick need not apply)– as examples of how adoption creates so-called “better lives.” The abrogation by-baby-box of adoptee civil rights is never presented nor is adoptee and foster abuse, or the lifelong negative impact that many adoptees suffer from their adoptions. The overall message is “Adoption is beautiful.”
Does SHBB Inc have any connection to the anti-abortion/forced birth movement?
Yes. As noted above, Monica Kelsey and Pam Stenzel are staunch opponents of reproductive rights. Kelsey’s “pro-c
Kelseys “prolife” work predates the establishment of SHBB Inc and Stenzel has been an active opponent of abortion rights for over 25 years. Before the founding, of SHBB Inc they founded, along with “abortion survivor” Kristi Hoffferber, Living Exceptions (now-inactive), an anti-abortion ministry to oppose rape-incest and medical problem carve-outs in anti-abortion legislation. In 2014 Living Exceptions held several “Pro-Life Boot Camps” throughout the mid-west to build “a platoon of soldier’s (sic) to lay a new foundation within the pro-life movement.” A flyer for the event billed Kelsey, Stenzel, and Hoffferber as “Platoon leaders” who will teach participants “how to a be 100% pro-life warrior.”
Kelsey and Stenzel are popular speakers at “pro-life” and evangelical and Catholic events. Kelsey speaks, often on the topic “Conceived in Rape” at schools, churches, and “pro-life” and civic associations. In 2017 and 2018 she was a guest speaker at the annual Bringing America to Life conferences. Pam Stenzel has traveled all over the world with her sex talks. According to her webpage, she reaches 500,000 students a year through personal appearances and video outreach.
SHBB Inc’s Director of Public Policy and lobbyist Cathie Humbarger is a radical anti-abortion and anti-contraception activist. Besides her work with SHBB Inc, she is the founder, CEO, and Public Policy Analyst of Reprotection, a national organization located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that works to shut down abortion providers through “investigations” and oppositional research leading to complaints and lawsuits regarding clinic code enforcement and compliance with local, state and federal laws. She is credited with shutting down several clinics. According to its website, as of this writing, Reprotection is running 44 complaints in 25 states. In September 2021 Reprotection, partnered with Students for Life to launch the grassroots Abortion Free Cities campaign to shut down women’s clinics in individual municipalities. Prior to Reprotection and other current projects, Humbarger was the Executive Director of Indiana Right to Life (Allen County/NE Indiana RTL and held other positions in the state organization.
For over 15 years, the Allen Parker, president of the Justice Foundation has argued that the enactment of Safe Haven laws (baby boxes have not yet shown up in the argument but would be included) have abolished the need for abortion since under the laws, “the woman is totally free to release her child to the state with no obligation for future child support.” This eccentric argument has been rejected routinely by courts for years, but since Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett brought it up in oral arguments in Dobbs v Jackson (the latest attempt to overturn Roe) and the Justice Foundation has filed amici with that argument, it appears to have gained a foothold in the court We will publish thoughts on that later.
In March 2022, Kelsey spoke at the annual Anglicans for Life conference on the subject of “Does Your Community Need a Safe Haven Baby Box?” One of her speaking mates was Allen Parker on “Is it possible to Overturn Roe v Wade?
See our Abortion page for more information.
Do SHBB advocates have any relationship with traditional Safe Haven advocates?
No. Traditional Safe Haven advocates view SHBB advocates as harmful outliers. Sometime back, SHBB, Inc asked to join the National Safe Haven Alliance (NSHA) and was rejected. NSHA and traditional Safe Haven organizations actively oppose SHBB legislation in individual states. The Hope Box was a member of NSHA for a while, but left or was ejected for undisclosed reasons. SHBB Inc has established its own National Safe Haven Crisis Network (membership unknown) and runs its own alternative hotline. Kelsey and Stenzel recently spent time on the SHBB, Inc Beyond the Box podcast excoriating NSHA and its members, and at the end of the show asked the organization to join them in their fight against “baby abandonment.” (See What is SSHBN FAQ for more information)
Who are Safe Haven Baby Boxes marketed to?
Generally, anyone of childbearing years. Specifically, girls and women whom Kelsey claims are afraid for any number of reasons, including shame, to make pregnancy and birth revealed–even to family, friends, and the child’s father. These women, she says, do not want their names known or their faces seen even under the protection of traditional anonymous Safe Haven laws, which she says are not really anonymous because turn-overs must be personal. As a consequence, parents need an option to bypass sources of help such as financial and social assistance, temporary fostercare, respite care, family preservation projects,” confidential adoption,” and “flawed” traditional Safe Haven procedures. (To be fair. SHBB Inc says it does offer these options during counseling and it probably does to some extent.) SHBB’s Inc’s solution is a comfortable bromide for concealed pregnancy and secret birth and relinquishment. The box is a special state-guaranteed right to parental secrecy–the ultimate permanent solution to a temporary problem, that blocks the genuine restoration of adoptee rights and equality, and denies dignity to child and mother.
What problems do baby box advocates have with traditional Safe Haven “surrenders?”
SHBB, Inc argues that traditional procedures aren’t anonymous enough, though by law they are anonymous. Traditional Safe Haven laws are quite clear that “surrenders” are anonymous unless a parent or designee voluntarily identifies themselves and gives information to staff. Even then, the information remains confidential. A parent or designee cannot be forced to identify themselves or give any information about themselves or the infant. Attempts to do otherwise mean that the receiving agent/location is out of compliance with the law. SHBB advocates, however, claim that women “forced” to do face-to-face turn-overs will experience fear and shame over the traditional Safe Haven abandonment method and opt to dangerously discard their babies or at best leave them near an ER, fire station or some other “safe space” to be found later. What they actually argue is that infant abandonment, condemned throughout history, should carry no shame or guilt if done through their baby box. SHBB advocates offer no proof to back their anonymity demand, except their own “we just know” gleaned from news stores and self-generated anecdotes based on their hotline conversations with anonymous callers. When reports of a discard or a neonaticide appear in the press, SHBB Inc, with no knowledge of the individual or their circumstances, responds that”100%” if a baby box had been available it would have been used. No one can know that.
How are potential or actual users of Safe Haven Baby Boxes portrayed by SHBB advocates?
Safe Haven Baby Box advocates consistently call baby box mothers “heroes,” loving yet potentially deadly. Written propaganda as well public events such as their press conferences and box blessings create an eccentric conundrum of women in problematic and multi-vectored pregnancies with only two “choices:” discard/death or baby box. Unknown women are valorized as mothers who love their babies so much that they didn’t (or won’t) kill them,” without evidence that any of these mothers are of murderous intent. Few studies have been done on parents who use the traditional Safe Haven option and none on SHBB use since has only been in effect for 5 years and been just used a handful of times. Research done by the Los Angeles County ICAN board, and academic researchers show, though limited to self-reporting, tell quite a different story. See our Critical Rreadings page for a these reports and others.
What can we expect in the future?
Assuming that Roe v Wade will be overturned (which she supports), Monica Kelsey believes that her baby boxes will stand as a frontline defense against the “murder of newborns’ she assumes will follow when legal and safe abortion is no longer an option in many states. Unless Roe prevails, the gutting of abortion rights will be a major selling point for box acquisition as forced birth advocates construct a moral panic. In addition, a close observation of social media and news stories coming out of the SHBB movement suggests that future projects will include an attempt to create a unified standard for Safe Haven and Safe Haven Baby Box laws so that, for instance, a woman from Michigan can travel to California and know that the same law will cover her in both locations. This, of course, would mean federal legislation or a far less attractive second best/less effective Uniform Law Commission procedure—both of which would be time-consuming and difficult to achieve. Neither would be a priority, so state campaigns will continue. We also see attempts to void due diligence laws regarding Safe Haven and SHBB abandonments, dropping the mandate that parents be searched for by publication and other methods currently mandated by individual state laws and the federal government including the Indian Child Welfare Act. (Some state Safe Haven laws now specifically include special procedures and safeguards that cover possible Indian infant cases.