In a historic moment for the city of Benton and the state of Arkansas, the first Safe Haven Baby Box has been successfully installed at Benton Fire Station No. 3. Many gathered for the dedication ceremony on Wednesday.
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 who is 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.
“This is a wonderful thing,” said State Senator Cecile Bledsoe. “This is all coming together, the hopes, the dreams, the prayers (coming) to fruition to save these babies. I believe this is just the beginning. Young girls will know there is no shame, no blame and there is no name.”
Bledsoe was the co-sponsor for the original Safe Haven Bill in 2001 as a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives. As a senator, Bledsoe sponsored an amendment to the law earlier this year that allowed for fire departments to be established as surrender points and opened the door for a program like the Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
First Lady Susan Hutchinson also lauded the Baby Box and wanted to make sure that any woman facing a crisis pregnancy or who is thinking of surrendering her child knows that through the Safe Haven Baby Box, their child will be lovingly cared for.
“It’s upon us as a community to make sure that we help that moms choose life,” Hutchison said. “We thank the moms and the dads that chose life for that baby to be born and that they choose and take another step to make sure that that baby’s life is secure. That baby’s life will be secure if they bring it here to fire station No. 3 in Benton, Arkansas. They can be assured that their newborn will be taken care of.”
Senator Kim Hammer also spoke at the dedication.
“I wanted to stand up here along with others and celebrate a great day for the babies,” Hammer said. “It’s a great day for Saline County. It’s a great day for Benton. It’s a great day for the babies.”
“To the city of Benton, thank you for standing up and being a leader in Arkansas and allowing women in this community to have 100 percent anonymity if they choose too,” said Safe Haven Baby Box Founder Monica Kelsey.
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.
“My biological father is a rapist and I don’t even know my ethnicity,” Kelsey said in a previous speech to the Benton City Council. “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.”
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.
The project was 100 percent funded by the Knights of Columbus.
“They have done an amazing job holding fundraisers and asking people for money,” Kelsey said. “They make my job really easy and we couldn’t do this without them.”
With the addition of Arkansas, there are now five states with Safe Haven Baby Boxes. While the Benton location is the only one in the state, there are already talks for more.
“This is a wonderful day in Arkansas,” said Rose Mimms, executive director for Arkansas Right to Life. “But, let me tell you, it will not be the only Safe Haven Baby Box in Arkansas. There will be many more.”
Mimms said that she hopes that with the installation of the box, more people will become aware of the Safe Haven Law itself. She noted cases where women have put their babies in garbage bags or dumpsters to die because they though they had no other choice.
“We don’t want that happening in Arkansas,” Mimms said. “We want the mothers to know that they have a safe place to go. No questions asked … the child will be adopted to their forever family.”
Benton Mayor Tom Farmer recognized the efforts of Benton Fire Chief Bill Ford in bringing the project to the city. Also instrumental in the installation of the box were Assistant Fire Chief Russ Evans and Evans’ father-in-law Tracy Manning, which donated their services to install the box. Father Paul Worm, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Benton, said a prayer during the dedication and took a moment to bless the box.
“The greatest gift that has ever been given is the gift of life,” Farmer said. “We in Benton are proud to know that we are part of the celebration of life.”
Farmer said when Ford first brought the project to his attention, he was moved by the compassion and love he saw in Ford’s eyes.
“I heard it in his voice when he shared a story about his wife finding a baby and how important this is to out community,” Farmer said. “Bill summed it up most when he said that it was an opportunity to save a life … that’s what it’s about. Saving a life.”
Farmer also thanked the members of the Benton City Council for their support of the project.
“We hope that the box never has to be used,” Farmer said. “If there is a situation where the box has to be used, we thank that parent for entrusting us with the opportunity to make sure that that baby has ensured safety.”