By Tessa Redmond
GREENVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Western Kentucky’s first Safe Haven Baby Box is officially operational. The Muhlenberg County location, the 114th box installed across the country, was prayed over by nearly 100 community members at a blessing ceremony on Monday, August 1.
“Praise the Lord,” said Diana Anderson, executive director of local pregnancy resource center Pathway of Hope, at the ceremony. “We give all glory and credit to (God) for this day coming to fruition.”
A Safe Haven Baby Box allows a parent to safely, anonymously surrender her child who is less than 30 days old, automatically terminating her parental rights if she expresses no intent to return.
After placing her baby in the climate-controlled, electronically monitored box and closing the door, the mother is free to leave without legal pursuit as the box automatically locks and triggers a silent alarm. An individual with emergency medical training is then able to respond within two minutes and take custody of the infant for ongoing care.
“Seeing this box from the beginning to today has not been for the faint at heart,” said Anderson, who helped lead the charge to install the baby box in her community.
Last week’s ceremony marked the end of a long journey riddled with bumpy roads.
Though two local teenagers caught fire with the vision of what a baby box could do in their community and secured the first $1,000 in funding in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed legislation that would have allowed boxes to be installed in Kentucky hospitals, police stations and fire stations.
It was a whole year before Rep. Melinda Gibbons-Prunty, who represents the western Kentucky district, and Rep. Nancy Tate were able to move the necessary law through the General Assembly. And even then, a change to the law that would enable the community to place a box in the local EMS office would not be passed until March of 2022.
Despite the setbacks and delays, residents of Muhlenberg County quickly rallied around the project and the baby box, the installation, the publicity and several years of upkeep care were fully funded within two months.
“This community came together in such a beautiful way as we raised the funds for this to happen, and not a single tax dollar had to be used to bring this box to fruition,” Anderson said.
Now the baby box is free to community members who find themselves in a difficult situation.
Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Box, called the resource a “last resort option” at the blessing ceremony. If a parent decides to surrender her child, a face-to-face interaction is encouraged for the sake of the mother’s rights and health of the infant.
“Our prayer is that this box never has to be used, but if there is the need, (Pathway of Hope) will be available for anyone who finds themselves having to go through this very tough decision,” Anderson added.
She also committed herself and Pathway of Hope to pray for and minister to those who may use the box or find themselves in a place of uncertainty. That is a path the pregnancy center has already walked with one mother before a box was available in the area.
“We commit to do everything we can possibly do to make sure that anyone that utilizes this box knows that she, first and foremost, is loved, that that baby is well taken care of…and placing her child in this box is one of the most sacrificial, loving things that she could ever do,” Anderson said.
While there are 10 other Safe Haven boxes located in Kentucky, nine are in the Louisville area and only one is in northern Kentucky. The Muhlenberg County baby box is the only location in the western region of the state; eastern Kentucky does not have a local baby box.
Anderson would encourage others to explore the option of funding a baby box in their area.
“We would be glad to share our experience and our journey with (Safe Haven Baby Box)…The path has been paved, so to speak, and we would love to do anything we can to help anybody walk through the process,” she said.
If you are weighing the decision of safe and legal surrender for your child, you can call the 24-hour National Safe Haven Crisis line at 1-866-99BABY1