Ben­ton to in­stall state’s first Safe Haven Baby Box

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Dana Guthrie [email protected]­ton­

The city of Ben­ton will be the first in the state to in­stall a Safe Have Baby Box after a vote of ap­proval by the coun­cil Mon­day night.

The baby box is a safety de­vice that goes handin-hand with the Arkansas Safe Haven Law, which le­gally per­mits a mother in cri­sis to sur­ren­der her un­wanted new­born 30 days old or younger to an em­ployee at any hos­pi­tal emer­gency room or law en­force­ment agency anony­mously with­out fac­ing pros­e­cu­tion for en­dan­ger­ing or aban­don­ing a child.

Founder Mon­ica Kelsey was on hand at the meet­ing Mon­day to speak about the box.

“It’s so much more than a box in a build­ing,” Kelsey said. “It’s so much more than giv­ing women an easy out.”

Kelsey spoke about ba­bies that have been found on doorsteps and in plas­tic bags and how by hav­ing an op­tion like the baby box can prevent those sit­u­a­tions.

“In In­di­ana, I had in­stalled the first two baby boxes in 2016,” Kelsey said. “We were av­er­ag­ing any­where from two to three dead ba­bies in our

state which were left in trash cans and dump­sters. Since I in­stalled the boxes, we have had zero dead ba­bies in our state in the last three years.

The boxes are a la­bor of love and a very per­sonal project to Kelsey. In 1972, Kelsey’s mother was bru­tally at­tacked, raped and left on the side of the road to die at the age of 17. While her at­tacker was ar­rested and charged, six weeks later, she dis­cov­ered she was preg­nant.

“Back in the ‘70s, if you were un­wed, preg­nant and still in high school, the en­tire fam­ily was looked at dif­fer­ently,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey’s mother aban­doned her two hours after she was born.

“My bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther is a rapist and I don’t even know my eth­nic­ity,” Kelsey said. “I was dropped at a hos­pi­tal and handed over to a nurse even though there was no Safe Haven Law in 1973. I was one of the lucky ones. Some of these ba­bies be­ing dumped are not lucky.”

Ben­ton Fire Chief Bill Ford first pre­sented the idea in June. The box will be lo­cated at the Cen­tral Fire Sta­tion in Down­town Ben­ton.

The de­vice is a box in­stalled in an ex­te­rior wall of a des­ig­nated fire sta­tion or hos­pi­tal. The box has an ex­te­rior door that locks au­to­mat­i­cally upon a baby be­ing placed in­side. An in­te­rior door then al­lows a med­i­cal staff mem­ber to se­cure the sur­ren­dered new­born from in­side the build­ing.

The boxes are in a cli­mate­con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment with three trip switches which are ac­ti­vated when the door is ac­cessed from the out­side. The new­born in the box ac­ti­vates a motion sen­sor or when a vis­i­ble but­ton is pushed by the per­son who wishes to relin­quish custody of the child.

Boxes can only be in­stalled at a site that is staffed 24 hours per day and seven days per week. Emer­gency per­son­nel is re­quired to re­spond ev­ery time an alarm is ac­ti­vated at the box to ver­ify whether a new­born has been placed in the box.

Ac­cord­ing to Kelsey, the av­er­age time a baby spends in the box is two and half min­utes.

New­borns are eval­u­ated by med­i­cal per­son­nel be­fore be­ing im­me­di­ately trans­ported to the near­est hos­pi­tal for eval­u­a­tion. EMS is re­quired to no­tify the hos­pi­tal that the child is a Safe Haven Baby Box new­born sur­ren­dered un­der the cur­rent Safe Haven Law. The hos­pi­tal will no­tify the Arkansas De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices so the baby can be placed in a per­ma­nent home.

“I founded Safe Haven

Baby Boxes to al­low these women 100 per­cent anonymity in­stead of forc­ing them to walk in and hand a child over and look some­one in the eye,” Kelsey said. “This is a way for them to able to do this with­out ever be­ing seen.”

With the ad­di­tion of Arkansas, there are now five states with Safe Haven Baby Boxes. There will be no cost to the city for the boxes. Funds will be pro­vided through the Ben­ton Knights of Colum­bus, who re­cently held a Bingo night to raise funds.

“In just this year, 2019, we’ve had six ba­bies come through our pro­gram in a state that used to have two or three dead ba­bies,” Kelsey said. “Now we are hav­ing ba­bies that are saved … hope­fully we can make sure that no ba­bies die in your state in trash cans, dump­sters or along side the woods ever again.”

All meet­ings are open to the pub­lic and at­ten­dance is en­cour­aged.


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