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 hand-in-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 climate-controlled 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.