A fire station is the first place in Missouri to get a 'baby box' where moms can surrender newborns
Installed at Mehlville Fire Protection District Station 2 in south St. Louis County, the box is a secured incubator that new mothers in crisis can leave their newborns in if they are not able to care for the child.
The Mehlville Fire Protection District Station 2 became the first place in Missouri to receive a Safe Haven Baby Box.
The box offers mothers in the region a safe, secure, legal and anonymous way to surrender their newborn infants. Nationally, about 34 babies have been surrendered via a baby box since 2017.
“Today we have been given the privilege, a very special privilege, to make a difference in the lives of women in crisis that have the courage to surrender their babies to us,” said Brian Hendricks, fire chief of the Mehlville Fire Protection District, during a dedication of the new box on Tuesday. “To those women, I would say thank you. Thank you for entrusting us to care for your child. We will not let you down.”
The goal is to help mothers who are in crisis without judgment and protect their babies.
“Where there is a Safe Haven Baby Box, everybody inside that building is understanding,” Hendricks said. “There’s no judgment. If a woman is to a point where that is the best decision, then we are here to support that. We’ll make sure that baby is taken care of.”
The baby box is built into the station’s exterior wall. Once a person opens the door, an initial silent alarm will go out. Another alarm will go out when the baby is placed inside of the clear bassinet. The door will be locked from the outside and cannot be reopened. First responders will then take the baby in the bassinet to the hospital.
“We’ll make sure that the baby is transported to the emergency department, and we’ll also offer aid to the mother if she wants it,” Hendricks said.
The box installations are funded through community support and can cost $15,000 to $17,000. Missouri joins 11 other states that have installed baby boxes, including Indiana, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee.
The idea to bring a baby box to Missouri stemmed from a conversation state Rep. Jim Murphy had with a constituent who suggested it as a safe alternative for mothers who need help.
“Where these baby boxes have been placed, like in Indiana, [abandonment] stopped,” Murphy said.
Missouri has had a Safe Haven Law on the books since 2002. However, Murphy said, the law has not been completely effective.
“First of all, not everyone knew about it,” Murphy said. “Second of all, there was a human interaction [component]. When you gave up the baby you actually had to hand it to somebody, which was something that they found was a detriment to the whole process.”
As a result, he said babies were abandoned in dumpsters and on the street.
Safe Haven Baby Box founder Monica Kelsey said these boxes change lives. When she was an infant, her mother abandoned her just two hours after she was born in April 1973.
“When you take your story and you take your pain and you put it together, great things come from it,” Kelsey said. “When I learned that I was abandoned as an infant, the pain was there. And so, I thought, what can I do to make it better for others? I can’t change my beginnings, but I sure as heck can change it for somebody else.”
Missouri is now home to the organization's 157th box. Kelsey encourages anyone who might need help to reach out for resources.
“We’re not going to tell you what to do,” Kelsey said. “We’re going to give you what’s available and safe in your area and let you make the decision for yourself, because you have to live with this decision. We can’t live with this for you, but what we can do is walk alongside you on the decision that you’ve chosen.”
Following a medical exam, babies surrendered through the baby boxes will be adopted in 30 to 45 days. Safe Haven Baby Boxes can only be installed at hospitals, police and fire stations.
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