2/21/23, 9:59 AM Safe Haven Baby Boxes hopes to change Ohio baby box law
Two Ohio baby boxes closed due to staffing requirement
Published 10:35 p.m. ET Feb. 20, 2023 Updated 9:16 a.m. ET Feb. 21, 2023
- Two of Ohio’s baby boxes are now closed and one has yet to be activated.
- The founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes hopes to change the Ohio law requires 24-hour staffing.
After just six months Union Township in Clermont County shut down its baby box, an incubator for abandoned infants, at the fire station. Another box at a fire station in Sunbury in central Ohio was installed in January 2021 and closed seven months later.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes are designed to allow for the anonymous surrender of newborns. The nonprofit organization was founded by Monica Kelsey, who told The Enquirer she was abandoned at a small Ohio hospital as an infant after her mother was raped at 17.
‘The last option a parent has left.’ Why a baby box could be coming to your town
What are baby boxes?
A baby box is an incubated bassinet attached to the side of a building, usually a fire station. An exterior door locks automatically after someone places a baby inside and triggers a silent alarm that alerts first responders at the station. Staff then use a door on the inside of the building to retrieve the baby.
There have been 24 infants surrendered using Safe Haven Baby Boxes nationwide as of Feb. 10, Kelsey said at a press conference in Bowling Green, Kentucky after a baby had been surrendered there.
What does the Ohio law require of baby box locations?
Ohio Administrative Code, a set of rules for state agencies, requires locations with baby boxes to have at least one person on duty at all times.
Union Township Fire Chief Stan Deimling said the station used temporary staffing for several months to satisfy the 24-hour staffing requirement, in the hopes that there would be a change from the legislature, but they could no longer allocate the staff.
Kelsey said Ohio is the only state out of the nine states with baby box locations where she has run into this requirement. She told The Enquirer she believes electronic monitoring should satisfy the requirement.
“We have cameras in every one of our boxes that [send] a signal to cell phones now. We have alarms on the box that call 911 on their own,” Kelsey said.
She said a baby being in a box for five minutes while firefighters are out on a call shouldn’t be a concern if the alternative is “a baby laid in a dumpster for six hours.”
Kelsey said Safe Haven Baby Boxes is talking to Ohio legislators about changing the requirement. The organization compiled a list of contact information for local legislators and talking points about baby boxes on its website.
What does the Ohio Department of Health say?
Ken Gordon, a spokesperson with the Ohio Department of Health, said in a statement to The Enquirer that there has to be a person on-site to immediately answer the alarm and assess the baby’s condition.
“Technology and alarms may fail, and if they fail at this most critical time, the on-site individual’s role is of the highest importance,” he said.
The Enquirer reached out to the offices of legislators for Union Township, Sen. Terry Johnson, a McDermott Republican, and Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Loveland Republican, to ask if the legislators are considering introducing bills to change the requirement but did not receive a response.
“We’re working hard to bring this resource to women in Ohio. For us to have to fight this hard to get these boxes to stay in Ohio, speaks volumes about what’s important in Ohio,” Kelsey said.
What do critics of the baby boxes say?
Chris Hicks, a Union Township resident who has criticized baby boxes at township meetings, said he’s against the boxes both for practical reasons, like the alarm system, and philosophical reasons.
“On a philosophical level, [the boxes are] dehumanizing. It is continuing a stigma around unplanned pregnancy and it’s continuing to encourage unsafe behavior,” he said.
Hicks pointed to a video Safe Haven Baby Boxes released in 2021 that depicts a teenager giving birth without medical treatment and putting the baby in a box attached to a fire station.
“I think even in the pro-life movement, people are thinking ‘Is this really the loving, Christ centered, pro-life approach we want to have? To go tell women ‘keep it secret, don’t get help and throw your baby in a box and slam the door?” he said.
Hicks would prefer local governments take steps so people are more aware of Ohio’s Safe Haven law, like signs on locations where people can surrender a baby. He and his wife designed a sign with information on the Safe Haven law for the Union Township fire station. Safe Haven laws allow parents to anonymously surrender a baby to medical professionals or law enforcement without facing legal repercussions. Ohio’s law, passed in 2001, allows parents to legally surrender infants younger than 30 days at a hospital, fire department or police department where there are medically trained professionals.
Baby boxes raise questions about adoptee rights
Marley Greiner, an Ohio native who co-founded the New York-based adoptee rights organization Bastard Nation, told The Enquirer she opposes Safe Haven laws, but said baby boxes are “Safe Haven laws on steroids” when it comes to issues with anonymity.
“Adopted people have huge abandonment issues. It’s not being a box for a minute or two. It’s the lifelong repercussions of that,” she said.
The organization advocates for adoptees to have more information about their origins and access to records like original birth certificates.
“It’s about a right to know who you are, where you came from, who your family was,” she said.
Greiner said she would rather see more non-directive counseling for women facing unplanned pregnancies about the public and private services available to them. She runs the Stop Baby Boxes Now website which tracks legislation related to baby boxes in the U.S.
Where are Greater Cincinnati’s baby boxes?
Currently, there are two open baby boxes in the region, one at the Delhi Township Fire Department, which is staffed 24-7, and one at the Fort Mitchell Fire Department.
Lebanon has installed a baby box but it has not been activated yet, according to City Manager Scott Brunka. Brunka did not respond to a question about why the box’s activation was delayed.
Erin Glynn is the watchdog reporter for Butler, Warren and Clermont counties through the Report For America program. The Enquirer needs local donors to help fund her grant funded position. If you want to support Glynn’s work, you can donate to her Report For America position at this website or email her editor Carl Weiser at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can help fund her work.
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