What is believed to be the nation’s first Safe Haven Baby Box, a place where mothers can drop off newborns, was dedicated Tuesday at the Woodburn Volunteer Fire Department.
Indiana has had a safe haven law for several years. It allows mothers to drop off newborns, no questions asked, at police stations, fire stations and hospitals. The law was passed in response to newborns being abandoned in garbage cans around the state, including some in Fort Wayne.
Monica Kelsey, a medic with the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority and a volunteer with the Woodburn Fire Department, has been pushing for what she dubbed baby boxes for at least a couple of years. She said the one dedicated in Woodburn is the first one in the nation.
The baby boxes have warming elements developed by a Texas medical supply company, and they are equipped with a security system that notifies emergency personnel if a baby is dropped off. Emergency responders can retrieve the baby within minutes.
The baby boxes do have their critics. Some people say that by dropping a baby off at one of the boxes, there is no opportunity to offer the mother medical care or counseling.
Kelsey, however, said that some people want total anonymity, but no one is listening. She told of a girl who called a hotline (866-99-Baby1) she volunteers for who wanted to know where a baby box was. There were none at that time, but the girl who was calling refused to go to a hospital or fire station to drop off the baby. Eventually, the girl’s boyfriend brought the baby to a nearby hospital where the staff was unfamiliar with the safe haven law.
"This is not criminal," Kelsey said. "This is legal. We don’t want to push women away."
The goal now is to get the word out about the safe haven law and when baby boxes are installed, she said.
The first baby box was installed in Woodburn because it’s where Kelsey is a volunteer and it’s where the builder, electricians and security company are.
A second baby box will be installed Thursday in Michigan City, where seven babies have been abandoned in the trash in the last 15 years.
No tax money is used for the baby boxes, Kelsey said. The Knights of Columbus of Indiana will pay for the first 100 baby boxes, which cost $1,500 to $2,000 each.
The baby box in Woodburn was actually installed April 19, the anniversary of when Kelsey says her birth mother abandoned her at a hospital when she was just hours old.
State Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, has supported the concept of baby boxes in the state and has been working with lawmakers and Gov. Mike Pence’s administration on safety protocols.
Cox, who was at the dedication, cited Kelsey’s work that started a national conversation about preventing abandonment of babies and said the effort will save lives.