South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

First baby surrendered at MFPD firehouse

The baby, a girl, was ‘healthy’ and will be adopted
Photo by Erin Achenbach
Missouri’s first Safe Haven Baby Box was installed in South County at the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Engine House No. 2, 5434 Telegraph Road. The box was dedicated at a ribbon cutting event Aug. 8, pictured above, which was attended by Rep. Jim Murphy of Oakville (pictured center) – who sponsored the legislation for the baby boxes, Mehlville Fire Chief Brian Hendricks and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. The boxes are designed to let parents anonymously and safely surrender newborns at firehouses, hospitals and other public safety locations.

The Safe Haven Baby Box has seen its first drop-off nearly six months after being installed at a Mehlville Fire Protection District engine house in Oakville.

The baby box, the first in Missouri, was installed at the MFPD firehouse at 5434 Telegraph Road in August 2023. The baby was surrendered Feb. 8.

“Six months ago, I made a pledge to any woman that had the courage to go through what I can only imagine to be just a horrible, horrible thing; I made a pledge that we wouldn’t let her down,” MFPD Chief Brian Hendricks said at a press conference Feb. 12. “To that mother, I would like to say, we loved that baby and cared for that baby the minute we laid eyes on her … Everything worked how it was supposed to.”

According to Hendricks, the baby, just a few hours old, was a “beautiful, healthy baby girl,” and was transported to a local hospital for further medical evaluation, and is doing “very well.”

The baby boxes are temperature-controlled and alarmed. When the outer door to the box is first opened, one of three alarms goes off. The person then has 30 seconds to place the child in the bassinet and close the door. Once placed in the bassinet, another signal is sent out that goes to the district’s monitoring and dispatch center, Hendricks said. The process is designed so the individual dropping off the baby can remain anonymous.

“There are three reasons why we hold a press conference after a baby is surrendered in a baby box. The first reason is to talk directly to the parent … To the parent that came to this location and surrendered your infant to the Mehlville Fire Department, I want to say thank you … Your baby was loved for the short time that these guys had her. We had eyes on your child within a minute of you placing the child in the box,” Safe Haven Baby Box founder and CEO Monica Kelsey said. “I know this does not come without pain … But again, thank you. Thank you for keeping your child safe; thank you for entrusting your child with us.”

Kelsey, who started the program after learning that she was abandoned as an infant, said that the state was already seeking out adoptive parents for the baby.

“This baby was not abandoned. This baby was legally and lovingly anonymously surrendered in the Safe Haven Baby Box, and it’s an honor to be there for this mother in her time of need,” Kelsey said.

Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Oakville, spearheaded the effort in the legislature to pass a bill allowing the installation of baby boxes in Missouri. He began pursuing the issue in 2020, with legislation passed in 2021. Missouri already has a Safe Place for Newborns Law on the books, which allows parents to give up newborns up to 45 days old without prosecution, as long as it is done according to the law. Murphy’s legislation amends the law by adding an official baby box as an acceptable and anonymous drop-off location where relinquishing parents can surrender an infant, in addition to current locations defined in the act, such as firehouses, hospitals, maternity homes and law enforcement officers.

“What a journey. This journey didn’t start in August, and it doesn’t end today … I always thought when we put in this box, I hoped it was never necessary to have to use it, but I have to tell you, I am so absolutely taken aback at how important this box was that it was here, and it was needed,” Murphy said. “This mother was so courageous … to do what was best for her child’s future.”

According to Safe Haven Baby Box, there are now 202 active baby boxes in the country. Fifteen states have a Safe Haven Baby Box pretense in their state, including Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, West Virginia and Mississippi. Other states, like Texas, Wisconsin and Kansas, have amended their safe haven laws to include the Baby Box program, and 13 more states have legislation currently filed.

Nationwide, 42 babies have been surrendered in the boxes, and 147 have been “handed off,” according to Kelsey.

“Our focus is getting these women to walk into a fire station to hand their child to a person. That’s what we want them to do. It’s safer. We’re not going to tell you that it’s safer to put a baby in a box,” Kelsey said, “but when they won’t walk in, we have to have an alternative available … What we’re doing in the boxes is keeping the babies out of the dumpsters and the trash cans.”

According to MFPD Board of Director Treasurer Bonnie Stegman, plans to install another baby box in South County are already underway at Engine House No. 5, 11020 Mueller Road, which will be undergoing renovations.

The Call’s Ellie Marshall contributed to this report.