OCALA, FLORIDA — On Wednesday, a newborn was surrendered to Florida’s only Safe Haven Baby Box for the first time at Ocala’s Fire Rescue Headquarters.
A baby box is a safety device designed in compliance with Florida’s Safe Haven Law. A parent in crisis may legally surrender a baby safely, securely, and anonymously if they are unable to care for their newborn.
The box was installed in an exterior wall of the Ocala Fire Rescue Headquarters in 2020. When the parent placed the baby inside the box, the latch locked automatically, and only medical personnel could access the newborn from inside the building.
“The climate-controlled boxes are alarm activated,” said Monica Kelsey, Founder and CEO of Safe Haven Baby Boxes. She explained that within 60 seconds, a silent alarm alerts firefighters that a baby is inside the box. “Sixty seconds is enough time for mom to get away,” according to Kelsey.
“I’m sure it’s hard for a mother to give up her baby like that,” said Kelsey. “But clearly, they feel there is no other choice. So I’m glad there is a place for them to do this.”
WORKED WITHOUT A GLITCH
Within minutes, the surrendered baby was attended to and brought to a local hospital for a medical evaluation. “Those who played a role in this performed flawlessly in saving this baby’s life,” Ocala Fire Chief Clint Welborn said in a news conference Thursday.
“Everything occurred without a glitch. The process, the procedure worked, and I am proud to work with such an efficient team,” Welborn added.
Monica Kelsey, the inventor of the Safe Haven Baby Box, addressed the mother directly at the news conference. “Thank you. Thank you for keeping your child safe. Thank you for bringing your child to a place that you knew was going to take care of this child,” said Kelsey.
“And thank you for doing what you felt was best,” Kelsey added. “I hope you find peace in knowing that your child is safe, your child is healthy, and your child will be placed with a set of adoptive parents if it hasn’t already.”
A LAST RESORT
Kelsey said she invented the box because officials across the U.S. were still finding abandoned babies, most dead, despite Safe Haven laws allowing mothers to surrender newborns to fire stations and hospitals. The concept behind the Safe Haven Law is to get these babies into the arms of trained personnel, but according to Kelsey, “the baby box is the next step” for a parent who may be afraid to interact with someone.
“My biological father is a rapist, and I was abandoned at birth. My life still has value. I wish that today, my birth mom would have had those resources all those years ago,” said Kelsey, a military veteran and former firefighter/medic.
Kelsey said this was the 23rd baby surrendered inside one of her boxes since 2017 and the first in Florida. There are 134 Safe Haven Baby Boxes in the United States, available in Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
WHAT IS FLORIDA’S SAFE HAVEN LAW?
Safe Haven became law in 2000 to prevent the abandonment of newborns. The law is a safety net that allows parents to leave their unharmed newborns, no more than a week old, at any Safe Haven facility recognized by state law. Parents can leave the baby anonymously and without fear of prosecution.
Any hospital, emergency medical service station, or fire station staffed with full-time emergency medical service technicians, paramedics, or firefighters may accept custody of a newborn infant, according to Florida law.
Upon admission to the hospital, the medical social worker will make arrangements with a licensed adoption agency. The agency identifies a potential adoptive family for the infant and will petition the circuit court to take physical custody of the infant.
A Safe Haven for Newborns, a statewide nonprofit, operates a 24/7 confidential hotline to assist women in making decisions in the best interest of their baby and themselves – whether with counseling, parenting, health-related issues, or adoption. They can be reached at 877-767-2229.