FORTVILLE — The door recently installed at Vernon Township’s new fire station isn’t big like the bay doors spanning its large garage.
Instead, it’s just big enough to place a baby in the container inside. That container, which is equipped with heating and cooling features, immediately locks after a baby is placed inside. A circuit sends an alert to 911.
The station became the first location in Hancock County and the 14th in Indiana to get a Safe Haven Baby Box. Advocates and supporters say the boxes give desperate mothers a safe way to exercise their legal right to anonymously give up their babies without fear of arrest or prosecution.
The Baby Box was part of the plans that got under way last year to build the $4.25 million Vernon Township Fire Station No. 3 at 600 Vitality Drive, Fortville, which is now staffed 24/7. Vernon Township Trustee Florence May said the box, located on the west side of the station, will be available after the completion of testing and training.
Indiana’s Safe Haven Law, passed in 2000, allows a person to anonymously surrender an unwanted infant no more than 30 days old without fear of arrest or prosecution. The person is not required to provide any information as long as there are no signs of intentional abuse. Once the baby is examined and given any needed medical treatment, the Indiana Department of Child Services takes the baby into custody before placing the baby with a caregiver.
All 50 states have safe haven laws.
So far in 2019, seven babies have been safely surrendered in Indiana as a result of calling the Safe Haven Baby Boxes 24-hour hotline or through the use of a Baby Box, according to a news release. The hotline — 1-866-99BABY1 — allows women to talk to a trained professional as they consider surrendering their babies.
Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Box Inc., visited the Vernon Township fire station on Monday, Oct. 21, for the Baby Box’s unveiling and blessing. Kelsey, who was abandoned as a baby and now serves as a firefighter and medic, said 60 women have safely surrendered babies at fire stations and hospitals as of Oct. 21 in the United States in the 3½ years since she started the organization. Three infants have been surrendered in Baby Boxes in Indiana.
Kelsey said the boxes give mothers a safe way to give up their babies as opposed to abandoning them, like the one recently left on a grassy lot in Seymour. It was Indiana’s first infant abandonment of that kind in the past four years.
“This box represents no shame, no blame and no names,” she said of the Baby Box recently installed in Fortville.
May, who started her first term as Vernon Township trustee in January, could not attend the event but said in the news release that the township’s fire department “is pleased to serve as an official Safe Haven Baby Box location.”
“Now those in desperate situations have a safe place to bring newborns,” May said.
May told the Daily Reporter that Vernon Township paid $8,000 to Safe Haven Baby Boxes for the box at the fire station, she said. She added the St. Thomas Chapter of the Knights of Columbus in Fortville donated $1,500 to the township to help defray the cost of the box and have committed to paying the yearly $200 service fee to Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
Scott Schutte, treasurer of the Indiana Knights of Columbus State Council, said at the event that the Catholic organization has been associated with Safe Haven Baby Boxes since its start. Indiana’s Safe Haven Law and Baby Boxes give babies “a chance to thrive,” he added.
“It is our religious belief that life is precious from the moment of conception until natural death,” Schutte said.
Fortville Police Chief Bill Knauer welcomes the Baby Box.
“This is an extremely great thing for someone to be able to get help for their baby,” Knauer told the Daily Reporter. “I think this is a mechanism that ultimately hopefully will never have to be used; but if it is used, we’re prepared to deal with it.”
He also praised the state’s Safe Haven Law.
“It pretty much gives desperate parents a safe option other than just abandoning their baby,” Knauer said.
Bridget Foy, a Hancock County Sheriff’s Department detective and board president of the Hancock County Child Advocacy Center, said the boxes give hope to mothers under the stresses and pressures of life who think they can’t raise their child effectively and responsibly.
“I think the Baby Box creates a gateway for them to know that their child will be safe,” Foy said. “…I think they can feel at ease knowing that their baby may have a chance to be in a loving, caring home.”
Those mothers have to have the mental fortitude to know that the environment they’re in could be damaging to the child’s life, she said.
“Maybe it would have different outcomes, who knows, but at least the baby would have a chance to be given to somebody who really wants that child to grow in a loving environment,” she said.
It’s important to educate people and spread the word of the availability of Baby Boxes, Foy continued. The baby recently abandoned in Seymour wasn’t far from a fire station equipped with one.
“I honestly think it’s heroic that Fortville championed this project, and I hope that other communities follow up and do the same,” she said.
Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said Baby Boxes are a resource consistent with the state law allowing people to anonymously give up babies free of fear of arrest and prosecution as long as the baby is unharmed.
“We’re always supportive of ways in which crime may be reduced,” Eaton said.
He added such a resource can also reduce crime by removing a child from a future of possible abuse and neglect.
Linda Znachko, founder of the He Knows Your Name ministry and who works in the Indianapolis area to offer abandoned babies funerals and resources for families suffering infant and child loss, attended the Baby Box unveiling in Fortville.
“I think the Safe Haven Baby Box is one of the most powerful initiatives we have here in Indiana to reduce the infant mortality rate that we have that is way too high,” Znachko said.
She said the footprint on the box honors Amelia, a baby abandoned at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis in December 2014.
“It’s her footprint that shows she was alive, she lived and she has a legacy,” Znachko said.
Courtesy of the Greenfield Daily Reporter