The Foundling Wheel's return.
March 27, 2015 5:38 AM   Subscribe

The recent Christian documentary "The Drop Box" (trailer) tells the story of a South Korean pastor who, after finding an abandoned baby on this doorstep, decides to create a drop box in his own home for people to leave their unwanted infants. The use of Baby Hatches (or Foundling Wheels) goes back centuries in Europe and parts of Asia, and there has been a recent reemergence of them. China's own baby hatch program was started a year ago and has been very successful. Various European countries have similar programs that have been going on for more than a decade. On the other side of the ocean, Canada successfully implemented their own Angel's Cradle program five years ago, and there has even been a recent effort to create Baby Boxes in the United States.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (21 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I always thought that mailbox was for bigger packages. Great! Now I have a place to put my kids when they aren't behaving.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:45 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I didn't know these were being promoted here in Indiana until I heard a quick news report on the effort to study the idea further.

Since my wife works for an adoption agency, I guess my take on these boxes is a bit skewed, but I know how much effort her agency puts into getting their agency's existence out into communities statewide, so, it seems odd to me that adoption wouldn't occur to the mothers that might use the boxes. Then again, I can't tell you how many emergency calls their agency gets from hospitals where a girl has just shown-up out of the blue in labor and decided only then to go the adoption route.

I'm assuming any babies left in the boxes enter the state foster system?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:04 AM on March 27, 2015

Isn't there already a program in most states for people to abandon their infants at hospitals/firestations/police stations? What is the need for a special box?
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:09 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe a box provides more anonymity and less fear of being shamed or whatever?
posted by ian1977 at 6:10 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Less fear of being shamed, beaten, prosecuted, etc.
posted by Peach at 6:31 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think ian1977 has it with the anonymity angle. Unbelievably, a lot of girls somehow manage to keep their pregnancy secret from their family, and an anonymous drop would certainly appeal to some of them. That said, I can't imagine something like a box where someone can leave a live human child would be allowed to operate without some sort of monitoring, probably video, just because.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:32 AM on March 27, 2015

It's amazing to me that millions of people apparently believe throwing a baby in the trash -- in the hopes that it will be raised by a succession of foster parents/institutions -- is still somehow preferable to abortion.
posted by Avenger at 6:40 AM on March 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

Oh for the love of - drop boxes are awful. They are a distraction that deliberately pushes an abusive adoption system, and South Korean adoption is far more about state and social policies to punish and stigmatise women and - argh, I've had a bunch of very kind people email me excitedly about this film and it's just poisonous and disingenuous propaganda.

14 Reasons Why This Adoptive Parent is not a Fan of the Drop Box Hype is a good summary, and this article shows some of the range of opinions. The Korean adoptees group, TRACK has some good numbers and opinion pieces on adoption and the box issues in South Korea.

At their very very best, drop boxes are a flawed alternative to safer legal options, and at their worst they open the door to outright trafficking.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:41 AM on March 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

An episode of M*A*S*H involved the drop box system. An infant was left at a monastery and, to notify the monks that the baby was there, the person leaving the baby would ring the bell near the drop-off point (thus, notification).

FYI: the episode was "Yessir, That's Our Baby."
posted by datawrangler at 6:53 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Isn't there already a program in most states for people to abandon their infants at hospitals/firestations/police stations?

States have enacted various Safe-haven laws over the last decade. Here's a map with state-by-state criteria. Here in Pennsylvania the process is anonymous-- no questions asked. Parents can have a proxy deliver the baby, and conscientious parents can even mail an anonymous health history form back to the hospital.

Are there folks whose mistrust of the system runs so deep that they would choose only the chute before the dumpster? Perhaps.
posted by The White Hat at 7:06 AM on March 27, 2015

Yes, it's the shame issue. The nearest "safe haven" to me is a fire station that we walk by all the time and when they're washing the trucks they let my kids sit in them and climb on them. I find it hard to imagine the guys there not providing overwhelming sympathy and kindness and TALKING to a girl who just wants to drop the baby and run.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:09 AM on March 27, 2015

It makes me think that we have utterly failed as a society, if this is such a widespread phenomenon that so many new mothers feel their only (or, "best") option is to anonymously dump their new baby in a chute.
posted by xedrik at 7:15 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

The White Hat: Are there folks whose mistrust of the system runs so deep that they would choose only the chute before the dumpster? Perhaps.

Child abandonment is still against the law, after all. I'd also be wary of this bright, shiny place where you can drop your baby, no doubt covered by video and in whistling distance of law enforcement.
posted by dr_dank at 7:20 AM on March 27, 2015

This relevant earworm will be familiar to those in the New England area.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:37 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's a stopgap, but it's better than nothing. We could also provide birth control for free and anonymously, as well as abortions, but that would allow women not to have to hide a pregnancy and then go through the trauma of giving birth alone and undetected (holy cow, I can't even imagine doing that, it's terrifying) and then finding a place to put the baby she can't care for.

Baby boxes are heartwarming, because we can feel good about Rescuing Adorable Babies and not confront the fact that we just don't give a shit about women. It should horrify us that they're necessary, that any woman would have to go through that trauma, that there are not options for her to either avoid pregnancy or get support instead of punishment.

But fuck women, who cares about them.
posted by emjaybee at 7:39 AM on March 27, 2015 [24 favorites]

Yeah, my first thought watching the trailer was to wonder what abortion laws are like in Korea. Really, really bad, as it turns out.
posted by Mooseli at 8:02 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thorzdad: That said, I can't imagine something like a box where someone can leave a live human child would be allowed to operate without some sort of monitoring, probably video, just because.

I believe they all do. For instance, the Indiana proposal includes this information:
The boxes proposed in Indiana would be equipped with sensors that would set off alarms when the box is opened and again when a weight is detected inside.
Other systems include video monitors and people near-by to pick up the baby, so it isn't left alone too long.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:20 AM on March 27, 2015

These boxes are for women who need them. It would be nice if only people who were well organized, un-selfish, clear-thinking and ethical got pregnant.

Picture: You are a twenty-three year old high school drop out who has never quite mastered simple literacy. You have boy friend who despises you and likes to jerk you around and control you. You suffer from depression so crippling you seldom go out. When your boyfriend finds out you are pregnant he strongly opposes you having an abortion, but by the time you can face the fact that you are pregnant you are already thirteen weeks along so getting an abortion would require you to know what to do and do it promptly instead of being paralyzed by fear. He tells you that you can't get an abortion unless the father signs off on it and you have no reason to disbelieve him.

You ask around what to do among your few friends who are not inclined to be punitive but they are not quick in responding and are not well informed either. They give you a variety of contradictory information. You make a doctor's appointment. They give it to you in three weeks since you are not a regular patient. The doctor informs you that you need an ultrasound to determine how far along you are. You are nineteen weeks at the ultrasound, twenty weeks at the follow up appointment. When you tentatively suggest that you don't think you can have the baby or should have the baby your doctor who has spent seven minutes in your company so far assures you that yes, you can have the baby, you are healthy, you can learn to do it, you will get pre-natal care that will teach you what to do.

Of course you miss most of your prenatal appointments due to not having bus fare and seldom being very sure what day it is. You show up for one appointment two days early which embarrasses you so much it is the last one you show up for.

But you are a good person and you know that you are habouring a valuable, essential human being so you steel yourself to do your very best, to change your life and learn to do what you must to take care of him or her. So when your baby is born you do. You take him home. You change him, you rock him to sleep, you make him bottles of formula. He's cranky a lot and spits up a lot every day. You didn't quite remember the formula mixing and sterilizing instructions they gave you, so in fact he is getting two or three soup spoons full of powdered formula in each bottle instead of one tablespoon full. You know it would be bad to give him too little, so you err on the size of giving him too much, especially because he seems to spit up everything you give him.

By the time he is a month and a half old you have run out of the free diapers and the free formula they gave you. You call the food bank to get more and they tell you you have to go to the Parent Resource Centre to get diapers and formula. They only provide food. They helpfully give the address which is on some street - Lancaster Street? You did write it down, but you know you didn't spell it right as you had to guess the spelling and you have no idea where that street is.

Your son cries a lot. You spend most of your time sleeping, getting up only when he cries and then rocking him to comfort him. He takes to drinking Strawberry Kool-Aid not at all badly. You know it's not a baby food, but it's also all you have and you know he could stave to death or die of thirst. He seems to spit up less Kool-Aid than the clumpy formula.

You are a horrible mother. You know that. You are incompetent. You know that. You are too depressed to take care of him. You know that. He's at risk as long as you try to raise him. You figure you will probably be charged with child abuse when you tell Them you fed him six bottles of Strawberry Kool-Aid and one bottle of Peach Kool-Aid so far. So it is important that the cops don't find out, that the hospital and the doctor who all assured you that you could do never find out. You would be contradicting them. And people always get so angry when you contradict him. But what if the baby dies!
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:30 AM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

Is this based on stories you've heard, or is this made up? I'm sympathetic, but I've learned not to take made-up anecdotes too seriously even when I agree with the conclusions.
posted by smidgen at 11:06 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is this based on stories you've heard, or is this made up? I'm sympathetic, but I've learned not to take made-up anecdotes too seriously even when I agree with the conclusions.

It's totally made up. Completely. It's not that I wanted anyone to believe in the story, which is why I told the story in third person, but rather to try and give a picture of how someone could get into that kind of a situation where the Baby Box is a life line.

It can be hard to picture how other people can fail totally at situations that you and the people you know would not find overwhelming. Why did they panic? Why did they run? Why didn't they speak up? How could they possibly not know?

Well, because there are people who can read, but who are functionally illiterate, people who are isolated, who have no support network, who are rendered into zombies by the medication they have to take - all this before you even start to consider people who don't speak or read English, people with drug addiction problems, or people with mental illness.

I mean the image of an abandoned baby usually leads to the picture of a girl too young to be a mother desperately trying to hide the fact that she is pregnant from her punitive parents, when in fact a significant proportion of infants in trouble are the child of a woman who already has other children and knows from experience that she can't handle another one on top of the family she is already trying to raise. It's not the inexperienced teenager who only has sex once who gets pregnant. It's much more often someone who has a regular partner and suffers a contraceptive failure.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

dr_dank: "Child abandonment is still against the law, after all."

The entire purpose of "Safe Haven" laws where you can drop your baby at a fire station or ER or at a hospital or in a baby box is that it is legally relinquishment -- not abandonment -- and you will not be prosecuted.

But these aren't as widely-used as you'd think. In Illinois, around 30 infants (under 1 month old) per year were abandoned before the passage of the Safe Haven law (Illinois's only goes to 30 days; after that you have to do a more formal, traditional relinquishment). In the first 10 years after the law was passed in Illinois, 75 infants were given up via Safe Haven and 66 abandoned (half of those abandoned did not survive). So, first, we see that other methods that were implemented in concert with the Safe Haven law (birth control access for younger teenagers, abortion access, pre-natal care and post-natal support) probably helped reduce the number of babies being abandoned, about halving the rate. Secondly, that these situations are very rare -- in a state of almost 13 million, we have about 7 infants a year being relinquished through Safe Havens.

On the flip side, the cost of having a "Safe Haven" is basically the cost of putting a sticker on the door of every police and fire station and adding a few minutes to trainings and a few pages to the procedures manual, so even at 7 infants a year it's probably worth it. (Building the high-tech creches would be more financially questionable, but it'd be easy to get private donors to pay for those.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:35 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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