Missouri has joined the growing list of states installing Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which are secured incubators where mothers in crisis can surrender their newborns.
The Mehlville Fire Protection District Station 2 in St. Louis County became the location of the first baby box in the state, a local NPR affiliate reported on Sunday. The box offers mothers a safe, legal, and anonymous way to surrender newborn infants. Thirty-four babies in the United States have been surrendered via baby box since 2017.
“Today we have been given the privilege, a very special privilege, to make a difference in the lives of women in crisis that have the courage to surrender their babies to us,” said Brian Hendricks, fire chief of the Mehlville Fire Protection District, during a dedication of the new box on Tuesday. “To those women, I would say, ‘thank you. Thank you for entrusting us to care for your child. We will not let you down.’”
Hendricks added that “where there is a Safe Haven Baby Box, everybody inside that building is understanding.”
“There’s no judgment. If a woman is to a point where that is the best decision, then we are here to support that. We’ll make sure that baby is taken care of,” he said.
The baby box is built into the fire station’s exterior wall. When a person opens the door, a silent alarm goes out, and another alarm goes out once the baby is placed inside the bassinet in the box. Once the door is shut, it is locked from the outside is cannot be reopened. First responders quickly collect the baby and transport him or her to the hospital. After a medical exam, babies who are surrendered to the boxes will be adopted in 30 to 45 days. The boxes may only be installed in fire and police stations and hospitals, according to the report.
Baby boxes are installed through community funding and cost approximately $15,000-$17,000. Eleven other states have installed Safe Haven Baby Boxes so far, including Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Indiana.
The idea to install a baby box in Missouri reportedly came from a conservation state Rep. Jim Murphy had with a constituent who recommended it as a safe alternative for mothers in crisis.
Murphy said the boxes have been linked to a decrease in infant abandonment and added that while Missouri has had a Safe Haven Law since 2002, it has not been completely effective.
“First of all, not everyone knew about it,” Murphy said. “Second of all, there was a human interaction [component]. When you gave up the baby you actually had to hand it to somebody, which was something that they found was a detriment to the whole process.”
Safe Haven Baby Box founder Monica Kelsey, whose mother abandoned her just hours after her birth in 1973, told the outlet the boxes are changing lives. The Missouri location is her organization’s 157th box.
“When you take your story and you take your pain and you put it together, great things come from it,” Kelsey said. “When I learned that I was abandoned as an infant, the pain was there. And so, I thought, what can I do to make it better for others? I can’t change my beginnings, but I sure as heck can change it for somebody else.”