Bloomington’s first Safe Haven Baby Box was recently installed and blessed Wednesday at the Bloomington Fire Station at 300 E. Fourth St.
Baby boxes are climate-controlled, ventilated boxes installed in the walls of hospitals and fire stations where parents can surrender their infants without having to personally pass them over to emergency personnel or provide any identification of themselves. Under Indiana state law, the infants surrendered to baby boxes have to be no more than 30 days old.
The baby box’s installation was the result of a community effort led by Eric Powell, co-owner of the Funeral Chapel.
Powell was the coroner on call on a day in May 2018 when a 26-week-old baby was found dead and abandoned in an apartment in Bloomington. With his wife LeeAnna Powell, he arranged a burial service for the baby, whom they named Sarah.
Once the Powells learned about Safe Haven baby boxes, they wanted to bring a box to Bloomington in Sarah’s memory. They contacted Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Inc., an organization aimed at preventing the illegal abandonment of newborns. A couple from their church, Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, covered the full $10,000 service fee.
Each box is designed with a silent alarm system that notifies emergency personnel when a baby is placed in the box. The door on the outside locks upon closing, and emergency personnel receive the infant from inside the building. Emergency personnel then bring the infant to the nearest local hospital for examination, after which the infant is passed on to children’s services officials for further adoption procedures.
An infant is usually adopted within 30 days after being surrendered, Kelsey said. Kelsey is a retired firefighter and medic and a pro-life speaker who was abandoned at birth by her mother, a rape survivor.
The box in Bloomington is the 32nd baby box installed in the United States by SHBB. According to its website, eight infants have been safely surrendered to baby boxes. Kelsey said the SHBB National Hotline printed on every baby box has assisted 77 people in surrendering their children through means other than the baby boxes, such as handing their children directly to emergency personnel.
“The boxes are saving babies,” she said.
While all 50 U.S. states have some variation of safe haven laws, only five states, including Indiana, have modified their safe haven laws to include newborn safety devices such as baby boxes. Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore said in the past, firefighters would have to personally receive a surrendered child from the parent. Although no identification or contact information would be required from the parent, the process is not fully anonymous since face-to-face interaction was inevitable.
Moore said the baby box’s installation in Bloomington has been well-received by firefighters because it doesn’t interfere with the firefighters’ other operations, meets their mission of saving lives and is a good use of public space.
“To know that we may not have to go on another call when there’s a dead infant, it’s going to be really good for our morale and our mental health,” Moore said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic lengthened the process, after two years, the Powells have finally seen the box put in place to help more parents in crisis and provide a chance for their infants to live.
For information on Safe Haven baby boxes, call 888-742-2133. If you are pregnant and in crisis and would like to speak to a counselor call 866-99BABY1, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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