The community of Fort Dodge became the first town in Iowa to receive a Safe Haven Baby Box, according to the executive director of the organization that creates and installs these life-saving units.
“They had had an abandoned infant in their community. As a former firefighter and medic, you don't want to run on those kinds of calls,” said Monica Kelsey, executive director of Safe Haven Baby Boxes. “Here we are now with our very first box in Fort Dodge, Iowa.”
The town, with a population of about 25,000, is located approximately 100 miles northwest of the Iowa capital of Des Moines. A couple in the community was accused of killing their newborn. The birth mother was arrested and pled guilty, and the baby’s father also pled guilty to what is described as “amended charges.”
A community’s response
After the incident, the community came together in support of having a safe haven box, Kelsey said.
“They got a committee together and started raising the funds and so it was definitely a community-driven event and process,” she said.
The cost to create and install a Safe Haven Baby Box runs about $15,000. Many are installed at fire stations, which is the case for the Fort Dodge box. Hospitals are also locations for the boxes, and sometimes police stations, she said.
Kelsey said she and her team have seen an increase in the number of requests for the boxes. The organization doesn’t go looking for locations, but instead, people from communities contact them.
“We don't go looking for locations, locations actually contact us,” Kelsey said.
“There have been abandoned babies for decades in this country, even prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned,” she added. “Abandonments have never decreased. The only time that they've really decreased is when we start seeing the success of education and awareness and the last resort option of anonymity.”
Baby boxes allow that anonymity.
“The boxes call 9-11 on their own; the parent doesn’t have to do anything,” Kelsey told Pregnancy Help News in a previous interview. “It usually takes two minutes or less for the baby to be found [by fire station or hospital personnel].”
Safe Haven saves lives
Every state has a safe haven law, in which a birth mother or father can leave their child safely at a fire station, hospital, police or sheriff’s department. However, every state law has parameters, and those vary. Kelsey’s organization, and others like National Safe Haven Alliance, help families and communities understand their respective state’s law.
Safe haven boxes save lives, Kelsey said.
“Last year we had eight. This year we've had 15, and we still have two months to go,” she said.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes not only saves the lives of babies, but also helps women who feel they are not equipped to be a parent yet, she added.
“Over 170 women have been impacted in just the last six years [of Safe Haven Baby Boxes],” Kelsey said.
Stories about babies found dead or dying in garbage dumpsters are not uncommon in America. Arrests earlier this year in Oklahoma indicates this horrific practice continues. Safe Haven Baby Boxes reduce those numbers, community by community, state by state, Kelsey said.
“Indiana is a prime example of what baby boxes have done for this country,” she said. “I launched in Indiana … we were having about two to three abandonments every year – babies dead in dumpsters and trash cans – and so we launched in Indiana, where I’m from. We have 109 active baby boxes [there], and we haven't had a dead infant in our state since we launched baby boxes. We've had a record number of surrenders in our boxes in our state, and so we've literally turned the tide in just one state alone.”
200 safe haven boxes by year-end
Other states are on Indiana’s heels, she added, including Arkansas and Kentucky, where more boxes are scheduled to be installed. About 200 safe haven boxes will be in communities throughout the country by the end of 2023, Kelsey said.
She hopes to see boxes in more Iowa communities also.
“We want to be where there's abandoned babies,” Kelsey said. “We do know that more babies have been abandoned in Iowa in the last couple of years, and so if we can help those communities in any way to make sure that they don't have another abandonment, then do that's definitely where we want to be.”
Tweet This: The community of Fort Dodge, Iowa, came together to establish Iowa's first Safe Haven Baby Box
She praised the Fort Dodge fire department employees.
“I spent two days in Fort Dodge with these guys because I did the training there and then we did the blessing the following day and I'll tell you; they are some of the best firefighters you will find across this country,” Kelsey said. “They’re very oiled. They were asking questions. they sincerely wanted to know what they could do to make sure that this didn't happen again in their community, and so a shout out to the Fort Dodge firefighters because they are some of the best I've ever met in this country.”