On May 14, 2022, Baby #19 was dropped in the box at the Carmel Fire Department #45 in Indianapolis. This was the third baby in five weeks to find itself lodged in this downsized AirBnB location—an extraordinary occurrence even by Safe Haven Baby Box Inc standards. Although there was a press conference and media coverage, not much is known about the baby—whom I am calling “Nineteen” for identification purposes—except that he was a healthy boy.
Then the fan hit. The second week of June, Monica Kelsey, founder, and CEO of SHBB Inc began TikToking that a parent (or parents—it changes) had come forward to reclaim Nineteen. Despite Kelsey’s claim that retrieval is rare, it’s reportedly more common than she would have us believe. It’s just that none of her previous catches has actually gone back home, though one came close.
From the beginning of this case, Mrs. Kelsey has exhibited more personal knowledge about Nineteen and his case than is her business to know. She has no legal standing to either be informed of the disposition of Safe Haven Baby Box cases or personal information about any of the boxed babies or their parents except what she may learn from direct personal interaction with the parents. And, she certainly has no legal standing to force the state to accede to what she likes to call “advice.” Yet…
..she kicked off her original TikTok and followed through on her June 15 Beyond the Box by sharing personal information about the health status of Nineteen and his parent(s), and questioning their ability to care for him
I know this sounds vague.
I debated whether to quote her claims since it makes compelling listening, I decided not to, even though it is out there in print and video, since it breaches the privacy of Nineteen and his parent(s). Importantly, these public statements are a shocking breach of ethics on the part of Mrs. Kelsey, who spends an inordinate amount of time lecturing that “anonymity matters” and complaining about “anonymity violations” by state agencies who don’t toe her line on “confidentiality” (under traditional Safe Haven practice as she defines it) and “anonymity”(under SHBB practice. as she defines it). In the context of baby boxes and Nineteen’s case, in particular, Mrs. Kelsey has created legal definitions for those terms that would make Henry Campbell Black jump out of his grave:
And so the Safe Haven law prior to you have the hand your job to a person which was confidential. And, I love it when you say it’s an anonymous thing when you place your child in the arms of a firefighter or a nurse at a hospital. Look up the definition of anonymous. That’s not anonymous. Anonymous means no one sees you. (BTB: June 15, 2022)
Mrs. Kelsey’s Gripe
Indiana DCS is turning Nineteen over to someone with no proof that the petitioner has a right to him. She harped particularly that no DNA test was ordered— only that DCS had said it was “pretty sure” that Nineteen and the claimant were a match. (She also let the cat out of the bag that babies born in hospitals and Safe Havened in them shortly after most likely don’t t need to be tested if a mother desires reunification. (That’s a story for another day).
And how does Mrs. Kelsey know that no DNA test was ordered before the state began the reunification process, which according to her included visitation? (We don’t know if visitation was supervised, but that’s how it usually goes.) She says she received emails “from other people” saying that DCS does not regularly order DNA testing (when and on whom?) No details. In response, some of her fan base suggested that the claimant was “just some woman who wants a baby.” One asked “what if another woman comes forward? “ Well, I think Solomon had an answer for that!
Indiana DCS, of course, for all its many faults, does not pass babies out the backdoor to total strangers. That’s what adoption agencies do. The fact is that the Indiana SHBB law—which SHBB Inc helped write—- (oof!)—makes no procedural provisions for baby returns, so no DNA test is required. This lack of procedures, including DNA testing IS disturbing to be sure, and I am not going to say that Mrs. Kelsey is wrong about her concern. But she also has a hard-on for DCS and doesn’t like the agency being involved in “her babies” Her solution:
I am working with legislators (have been for a couple months) about getting Safe Haven Babies out of DCS custody and right to adoptive parents.
What does this mean? Shove the kid through the adoption process via private agencies and lawyers that will charge $30,000-$60,000 a pop, or by some more dramatic scheme— to bypass all third parties and distribute produce through some special baby box pipeline designed by her?
Who’s Got the Secret?
When this story hit, my first question was how did Mrs. Kelsey obtain “confidential information” about Nineteen and his family: the condition of the baby, the requested return, and DCFS reported DNA flub?
Isn’t an SHBB catch designed to be a state secret? A Top Secret state secret? Was there an informer at a hospital? DCS? The court? I’m not the only one who wondered. Mrs. Kelsey’s response on TikTok and Beyond on the Box :”Who the hell cares how I found out?”
The answer to our question “a concerned family member.” Of course, if Nineteen isn’t socializing with his actual mother or father, then who is the “concerned family member” that Mrs Kelsey assumes is the real thing. Somebody whose niece or sister just showed with a mystery baby?
Now, this “family member” may have every reason to be concerned. Or maybe they’re just a busybody. Quite sometime back a woman attempted to make a Safe Haven drop-off at a Cleveland hospital. ER staff smelled a rat and called the cops. Turns out the woman was the baby’s aunt. Without consulting the new parents, who she believed were too young to parent correctly, the aunt decided to “legally abandon” the baby at a nearby hospital while the parents slept. Did she really believe that no one would wonder where the baby was? That someone wouldn’t blow their stack? Or call the police? The baby was returned to them quickly. I never heard what happened to Auntie Dearest.
Now, I believe absolutely that DCS should have ordered a DNA test. If they didn’t, shame on them! DNA tests are required in disputed adoptions. Why not in disputed SHBB cases? Anything less makes no sense. The state in fact, by law, should be required to collect a DNA sample from every newborn relinquished through Safe Haven or Safe Haven Baby Boxes. I’m betting that the box folks would disagree with such a radical requirement since it’s all about top-secret secrets. Secret babies. Secret parents. Secret births. Secret adoptions. Secrets only the SHBB Inc should be privy to.
Reportedly, DCS gave a big juicy raspberry to Mrs. Kelsey, so she went dutifully to the press with her DNA rant. Suddenly, an “emergency blood test” was ordered. She takes credit for this. Who knows? As I said earlier, DCS has many faults.
SHBB Inc Theater
This has been a mildly entertaining shitshow. Mrs. Kelsey loves to cause trouble for DCS despite denials. (To be fair, who doesn’t?) It makes no difference if DCS did or didn’t advise the court to order a DNA test for Nineteen. Perception is everything. Remember what Rahm Emanuel said: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”
No, this is pure SHBB Inc Theater. Since 2015 Mrs. Kelsey, DCS, the Indiana Department of Health, and the Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children (required by law to approve boxes) have been at war over her “newborn safety devices.” State officials opposed her baby box scheme and fought long and hard to stop the baby box blitzkrieg. You can read about it here. In the end, the state, babies, and vulnerable women and families lost when the evangelically inclined legislature created a way around objections and made Indiana the Baby Box Capitol of the World. DCS has been on SHBB Inc’s shitlist ever since and does the bare legal minimum to advertise boxes.
SHBB Inc never misses the chance at a beat down. But If DCS didn’t bother to order a DNA test at the first sign of reunification, they were stupid and played right into Mrs. Kelsey’s hands. Mrs. Kelsey, however, could have just gone to the press and commented on the alleged lack of DNA testing alone, and let the cards lay there. That would have been OK, and I’d not be writing this. Instead, she had to carry her gripe farther and disclose personal information about Nineteen, his health issues, and his alleged family incompetence. This is information that is held confidential under HIPAA, the law that Mrs. Kelsey complains DCS hides behind, while she herself, immune from HIPAA restrictions, feels free to blab to the public. Information that she herself claims doesn’t “exist” since SHBB “surrenders” in theory are all “anonymous;” thus, nobody knows, including her. I mean, “nobody sees you.”
Our Stories Belong to Us
This DCS kerfuffle is not a one-off. Spilling personal information about boxed babies is a common publicity stunt after they are adopted and permanently out of harm’s way. The gun was jumped on this one.
Mrs. Kelsely has been quite open about her strategy. She believes that showing off her catches is sound advertising and fundraising practice, not exploitation.
The “saved from something” babies (now toddlers), accompanied by their adoptive parents, frequent SHBB events such as box blessings press conferences, and fundraisers. Their pictures and their new names and other personal information are plastered over social and print media, and TV. (Here’s the latest.) Their stories, as mediated through their adoptive parents and SHBB Inc with references to “God’s will” and “Christ’s plans.” Their privacy and dignity are abrogated for publicity, a fast buck, and the hope that their stories will generate more box installations, donations, and traffic. An adopted friend of mine calls this self-serving practice “building a stairway to heaven.”
Adopted people have been subjected to this kind of exploitation, objectification, and third-party self-aggrandizement for decades. Early on, our stories are told by others to others, when we don’t know them ourselves. I know Late Discovery Adoptees who learn that their adoptive parents, while keeping their adoption secret from them, felt no compunction about telling neighbors, distant family members, hairdressers, and plumbers who came to fix the toilet, how Baby Bumble came to be theirs. I know adopted people, especially transracial, transnational, and multiples, who when they were children were trotted out for National Adoption Month, Christmas, or press inspection on a slow news day.
Nineteen’s story belongs to Nineteen and his biological parents. It is theirs to tell someday if they wish. It does not belong to some politically and financially agendized third party, with as much legal standing as Mitch McConnell to spew to her fan base and media. Nineteen is not a poster child. Adopted people are not props to hold up a broken social policy that encourages and praises child abandonment, family dissolution, and identity erasure.