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

Missouri’s first ‘baby box’ installed at Mehlville Fire engine house in Oakville

Photo by Erin Achenbach
The state’s first Safe Haven Baby Box was installed at the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Engine House No. 2, 5434 Telegraph Road. The boxes are designed to let parents anonymously surrender newborns at firehouses, hospitals and other public safety locations.

South St. Louis County is now home to Missouri’s first Safe Haven Baby Box, a newborn safety incubator that allows parents to relinquish babies with no legal consequences.

The “baby boxes” are temperature controlled and alarmed. Parents, or someone acting on a parent’s behalf, leave the baby in the box and close the door, which causes an alarm to go off letting first responders know the baby is there. Parents are able to remain anonymous.

The box was installed at the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Station 2, 5434 Telegraph Road.

“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,” Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Brian Hendricks said at the the box’s dedication and ribbon cutting event Aug. 8. “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 effort to pass legislation allowing the installation of baby boxes in the state was spearheaded by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Oakville, who first began pursuing the issue in 2020, with the bill being passed in 2021.

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. (Photo by Erin Achenbach)

The state already has a Safe Place for Newborns Law on the books, which allows parents to give up a newborn 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.

“The great part about this is there’s no human interaction with the idea of handing that baby over. When you open that box, there’s a bassinet, you put it in, you close it. It’s secure, it’s air-conditioned. It’s alarmed. Nothing will happen to that baby that isn’t good,” Murphy said at the dedication. “Then they (the parents) can walk away, there’s no cameras out here. It gives them a safe, secure way of giving their baby a new life and that’s important.”

Murphy added that the process to get to that point had been a “long ordeal” between both getting the legislation passed as well as the ultimate installation of the box. Installations can range anywhere from $11,000 to $17,000 and are primarily funded through community support. Murphy thanked several contractors who donated their labor, as well as Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe for his help in getting everything across the finish line. Kehoe was also in attendance at the dedication.

“One of the biggest delays in all of this was developing the rules and regulations that went into it,” Murphy said in an interview with The Call. “You don’t want to just allow (babies) to be put in a building (or) the baby goes into the box and there’s no one there to retrieve it, or the alarm system isn’t set up properly. All of those things had to be done to make sure that when that baby is turned over is that all of the facilities … is there to makes sure it is retrieved properly and has a good life.”

According to Safe Haven Baby Box, there are 157 active baby boxes in the country. There are 11 states with Safe Haven Baby Boxes including Indiana – where it started, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and others.

“We’re thrilled to get this started. The reaction at the dedication was overwhelming. I’ve had a lot of events … but there was a lot of support in our community and that’s just wonderful,” Murphy said. “It’s really all about the children and saving babies. If it saves just one, I’ll be satisified. I’ll have done my job.”

The bill had bipartisan support in both the state House and Senate.

“It got almost zero pushback. … It had great support, it just makes sense,” Murphy said. “You know, a poor woman  who makes the decision to give up her child right at birth has to be in somewhat of a dire situation and they shouldm’t be vilified for making that decision. It’s a deicison they make out of love and giving them a safe place to do it is the right thing to do.”

The program was started by Safe Haven Baby Box founder and CEO Monica Kelsey after  she learnded she was abandoned as an infant.

“I stand on the front line of this movement as one of these kids who was not lovingly and safely and anonymously placed in a Safe Haven Baby Box, but today in St. Louis and the Mehlville Fire District, parents have the option now to save the life of their kid that they didn’t have when my birth mother abandoned me,” Kelsey said.

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