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'Baby box' discussion continues

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Would a Safe Haven Baby Box – a place for scared young women who have just given birth to leave a baby they couldn’t take care of – be important to New Castle?

Without going into great detail, Mayor Greg York told City Council members Monday night that such an incident had already occurred.

“The last meeting you were at, just the week before that, we had an incident with a port-a-pot at one of our parks along this line,” York said. “So it can happen in New Castle also.”

New Castle City Council support for installation of a Safe Haven Baby Box was reaffirmed Monday night – with a catch, of sorts. 

City Attorney David Copenhaver said by law, the council could not allocate any taxpayer funds to pay for the actual box. Its most recent action, designating $200 per year to take care of maintenance, was appropriate, however, Copenhaver said. 

Recently, members of the New Castle City Council approved a plan that gives young women facing these difficult decisions a way forward – for themselves and the baby.

In a 4-0 vote, council members granted Knights of Columbus member William Huber permission to raise funds for what is called a “Safe Haven Baby Box” to be installed at New Castle Fire Station No. 1 on Main Street. The motion, made by Councilman Rex Peckinpaugh, also dedicates $200 annually from the city’s riverboat gambling proceeds for proper maintenance of the box.

Huber said the climate-controlled baby box would allow a mother to put the child in a safe place, while, at the same time, setting off an alarm for emergency officials who would then come and get the baby so it could receive proper care.

But Monday night, Huber said he has encountered a snag in fundraising plans. Henry County Community Foundation officials have rejected the idea of establishing a “pass-through” account to raise the $10,000 needed for purpose of the device.

“Henry County Community Foundation was not receptive at all to opening an account there,” Huber said.

Councilman Rex Peckinpaugh suggested Huber go ahead and start his fundraising process and then get back with the city with a report.

“I’d like to see them fundraise for a couple of months,” Peckinpaugh said. “There would be no use of us taking any action if the public isn’t going to support it.”

Huber said in conversations with Fire Chief Mark Boatright, the ideal location would be by the entry door of Engine 1. “There’s a room not used for anything else there,” Huber said. “It used to be the old dispatch room. I think that’s the ideal location for it.”

The idea for Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Huber said, came from an Indiana firefighter named Monica Kelsey.

“Her husband is the mayor of Woodburn, Ind.,” Huber explained. “When he was on deployment in Afghanistan, they allowed her to act as mayor while her husband was deployed.”

While the city can’t donate to a baby box directly, it could consider a building improvement to the fire station as a match for funds raised by the public.

Peckinpaugh suggested Huber’s group come in, okay the proposed site, get an estimate of costs and bring that information back to the council.

“Chief Boatright said he has a house full of electricians and carpenters who are firemen,” Huber said. “They could build it and have a general contractor sign off on it.”

The climate controlled box at the fire station would be connected to 911-dispatch, Huber explained

“The outside door, when it opens, triggers a silent alarm inside the room,” Huber explained. “When the parent closes the door, 911 dispatch is notified. Fire or EMS verifies there is a baby in the box, checks the condition of the child and if it needs to be taken to the hospital.”

Huber said no infants had died of exposure in Indiana since the boxes have been in place. Meanwhile, in Ohio, a woman has been charged with murder and is facing a life sentence because she left a newborn outside. The baby later died.

Statistics cited by Councilman Aaron Dicken revealed that since the first one was installed in 2016, two Indiana babies have surrendered around the state. Dicken also said a corresponding hotline for distraught young mothers had resulted in 55 babies being turned over to authorites.