Firefighter who created Safe Haven Baby Box meets first baby surrendered

Monica Kelsey created the Safe Haven Baby Boxes as a way for mothers to surrender newborns anonymously under Indiana's safe haven law


By Lincoln Wright
South Bend Tribune

COOLSPRING TOWNSHIP, Ind. — Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, recently got the chance to hold and look into the eyes of Baby Hope -- the first baby ever surrendered in her creation.

"It brings everything that I fight for to light again," Kelsey said of meeting the baby.

Monica Kelsey created the Safe Haven Baby Boxes as a way for mothers to surrender newborns anonymously. (Photo/Safe Haven Baby Boxes)
Monica Kelsey created the Safe Haven Baby Boxes as a way for mothers to surrender newborns anonymously. (Photo/Safe Haven Baby Boxes)

Kelsey created the Safe Haven Baby Boxes as a way for mothers to surrender newborns anonymously under Indiana's safe haven law, which was expanded in April. She hopes the baby box isn't the first choice, but it does provide a safe option if a mother doesn't want to face someone to turn over a baby.

"Our goal is to never have a baby surrendered in a box," she said. "It's only a good choice, when it's the last choice."

On Nov. 7 just before 10:30 p.m., firefighters from the Coolspring Township Fire Department received an alert that the baby box, installed in the side of the volunteer department's building just outside of Michigan City, had been activated. It's only one of two boxes in the U.S. The second is located in Woodburn, Ind.

Inside the Coolspring Township baby box, firefighters found a newborn baby girl, wrapped in a gray sweatshirt with the umbilical cord still attached. They nicknamed her Baby Hope.

Now more than a month later, Kelsey had good news to share. Baby Hope has been adopted.

"She is perfect. She is beautiful and she is healthy," Kelsey said. "I have been very blessed to meet this little girl and hold her and love on her for a few minutes."

And seeing Baby Hope healthy and with a loving family, Kelsey said, "speaks volumes" for the the work she's doing trying to spread Safe Haven Baby Boxes around the country.

"I've been so honored to get to see what we fight for," she said.

The Safe Haven Baby Box at the Coolspring Township Fire Department was installed on April 28, 2016. But the boxes have never gained the approval of the Indiana Department of Health and the Department of Child Services. The organizations said there's no evidence supporting the boxes being a safe way for a child to be turned over. An infant needs to be turned over directly to a health or public safety professional, they argue.

But Kelsey doesn't understand how anyone could be against the boxes, especially now that is has actually saved a child, she said. Every year for the past 15 years, Kelsey said, at least two to three babies have been illegally abandoned in Indiana, many of which were found dead.

This year will be the first year no babies have been found abandoned, she said. While a baby box has only been used once, Kelsey credits the 24-hour hotline her organization established that has supported pregnant women and led to positive outcomes for babies who otherwise may have been illegally abandoned.

The hotline (1-866-99BABY1) has received more than 900 calls resulting in 132 referrals to crisis pregnancy centers, four adoptions and eight cases where they aided a woman walking into a fire station or hospital.

While the hotline helps with parenting and adoption plans, Kelsey said, when that doesn't work "we better have a last resort."

A mother has the right to change her mind within 30 days of dropping off her baby. After 30 days, the mother's parental rights are terminated. The baby is usually available for adoption after 60 days.

Moving forward, Kelsey is continuing to grow Safe Haven Baby Boxes not only in Indiana, but around the country. She recently helped legislation get passed in Ohio to make it legal to surrender a baby in a baby box. She's now working with the Ohio Department of Health to start bringing the boxes to the state.

Kelsey is also working to get legislation passed in Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Three more boxes are also expected to be installed in Indiana hospitals. Kelsey said she hopes to announce the locations in late January.

"This will be a nationwide program in seven years," she said.

Copyright 2017 South Bend Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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