A baby box is a safety device provided for under a state’s Safe Haven Law and legally permits parents in crisis to safely, securely and anonymously surrender their newborn if they are unable to provide care.
Mathews, an attorney who also is board chairman of Elizabeth New Life Center, said the cost of installing a baby box is about $10,000 and would cost about $300 a year in maintenance costs. He wants to add the costs into the city’s 2022 budget.
“If it saves one baby, then it will be a success,” he said.
Mathews said baby boxes are built into an exterior wall of a hospital or fire station that has a heating and cooling system and has a door that automatically locks after an infant is placed inside. After the door is closed and locked, it sets off an alarm to alert the fire station or hospital of the baby’s presence.
Defiance became the first city in the state to install a Safe Haven Baby Box in September 2019; other Ohio cities with baby boxes are Hicksville, Sunbury and Van Wert.
These baby boxes also are in 93 other communities in Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas and Arizona.
Ohio’s Save Haven law was adopted in 2001 as a way to reduce the number of deaths due to abandonment in unsafe environments. The law allows a mother or father to anonymously and legally drop off a baby, up to 72 hours old, with a medical worker at a hospital; a medical worker at a fire station or other emergency service organization; or to a peace officer at a law enforcement agency.
In 2009, the law was amended to increase the time period up to 30 days during which a parent may legally abandon a child, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
OJFS said if the baby needs medical attention, it will be provided. The professional staff person who accepts the baby will contact the county children services agency; and the baby will be placed in an adoptive home as there are many families who want to adopt a baby. If a child is not left at a hospital, the child will be taken to a hospital to be examined by a physician.
If there are signs of abuse or neglect, the county is required to take all necessary steps to identify and locate the child’s parents and begin an assessment and investigation, according to OJFS. The hospital also will perform genetic tests for future identification in case a parent requests the return of an infant.
The Safe Haven Baby Box organization staffs a 24-hour hotline, 1-866-99BABY1, to allow parents to talk to a trained professional as they consider safely surrendering their baby.