SYRACUSE — More than 30 people attended the dedication of the state’s 11th Safe Haven Baby Box Friday, Aug. 9, with a ceremony at Turkey Creek Fire Station 2, located at 8138 E. McClintic Road south of Syracuse.
The station was chosen for its “significant level of anonymity for surrenders,” according to a Safe Haven press release.
The box, situated on the east wall of the station, is designed to ensure the secure and anonymous surrender of “a child who is, or who appears to be, not more than 30 days of age” to a medical service provider for delivery to the state for placement with a caregiver.
The lineup of speakers included:
• Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes
• Fire Chief Mickey Scott
• Dave Koontz, executive director of Right to Life of North Central Indiana
• Linda Znachko, founder of the 501(c)(3) ministry, He Knows Your Name, and author of “He Knows Your Name: How One Abandoned Baby Inspired Me to Say Yes to God.”
• The Rev. David Henry, pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Syracuse
Kelsey told the heart-grabbing story of her abandonment by her mother, who had been raped and had considered an abortion, but decided to give birth. She abandoned Kelsey two hours after the birth.
“Being an abandoned child myself, I don’t ever want there to be another one,” she said, and concluded her remarks with, “There is no blame, no shame and no name in using the baby box.”
Scott read letters of support from Kimberly Cates, former member of the township and fire boards and current member of the Kosciusko County Council, and County Commissioner Cary P. Groninger. Both were unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts.
“Our hope is that this Safe Haven Baby Box never has a need to be utilized,” he said. “But at the same time our department also understands this baby box could someday save the life of an infant.
“We encourage anyone who is considering the possibility of surrendering an infant to seek professional counseling prior to doing so,” Scott advised.
He extended thanks to various organizations and agencies “who supported us in this project,” listing the Kosciusko County Fire Association, county commissioners, county council, Turkey Creek fire and township boards and Syracuse Town Council.
Koontz recognized the contributions of “individuals and organizations” in and around Kosciusko County to install the baby boxes and erect billboards with the toll-free counseling number in his organization’s six-county area, which consists of Kosciusko, Fulton, Whitley, Wabash, Grant and Cass counties.
He said more than $40,000 has been donated to the cause in the past year.
Znachko said she started her ministry after holding a funeral for a baby girl found in Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. The infant was “wrapped in a blue sweatshirt that said, ‘Vincennes Univ. Aviation Dept.’ I knew I would name her Amelia, which means ‘Defender.’ I am her voice and I carry her legacy.” Amelia’s actual footprint appears on the sign over the baby box.
Henry finished the 20-minute ceremony with a prayer of thanksgiving and dedication.
According to the state’s official website, www.in.gov, “The Indiana Safe Haven Law enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution.
“As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. Any knowledge of the date of birth, race, parent medical history, child’s health or anything that would be useful to the child’s caregiver would be greatly appreciated.
“Once the baby is examined and given medical treatment, if needed, the Indiana Department of Child Services will take the baby into custody through Child Protective Services where it will be placed with a caregiver.”
Indiana Code further provides the department must, within 48 hours of taking custody of the child, “contact the Indiana clearinghouse for information on missing children … to determine whether the child has been reported missing.”
The baby box has outside access on the east wall of the station. The door is unlocked until a baby is placed in the climate-controlled cushioned bassinet, located in the station’s kitchen and lounge area. The outside door locks after it is closed.
Silent alarms alert the personnel, who staff the station 24/7, of the arrival of the infant. They check the baby’s health and contact the local child protective services agency for transfer and ultimate placement.
The procedure is swift, and babies are rarely in the box more than 2 1/2 minutes before their rescue.
Three successive alarms are activated by activity in the baby box:
• when the outer door is opened
• when the laser motion sensor is broken by the presence of the baby
• when the outer door is shut
In each case, notification is immediately sent to central dispatch, who notifies the on-duty personnel by radio and phone communication, no matter where the firefighters are in the station.
Safe Haven maintains a 24-hour hotline, 1-866-99BABY1 (992-2291) “to give women the opportunity to talk to a trained professional as they consider safely surrendering their baby.”
The press release notes the hotline has been responsible for the safe surrender of six babies to date in 2019. Safe Haven has also installed two baby boxes in Ohio and is planning one in Arkansas.