SUNBURY, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio’s only Safe Haven Baby Box has been closed.
According to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes organization, the baby box in Sunbury, Ohio, is no longer available due to the “inaction of the legislators and the Ohio Department of Health not addressing this issue when it was discovered.”
Safe Haven Baby Boxes are set up at fire departments and hospitals and allow parents to anonymously and safely leave an infant they can no longer care for. The boxes are equipped with 24-hour camera monitoring inside the box as well as an alarm system that alerts 911 when the box is opened.
The Sunbury box, which was located at BST&G Fire District on the 300 block of West Cherry Street, was removed, Safe Haven said, because of the state’s interpretation of safe haven laws, requiring someone to man the box 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Which means one firefighter has to stay behind if there is a house fire to ‘man’ the baby box and take manpower away from the fire crew’s resources,” the organization wrote in a press release. “This outdated rule doesn’t consider the fire departments use of technology or new monitoring tools and is something that we strongly believe needs changed.”
Christopher Kovach, Fire Chief of the B.S.T. & G. Fire District, noted the the box has not been removed, but rather closed, originally due to alarm system repairs over the summer. Kovach said by October they chose to keep it closed because of the disagreement on the interpretation of the law.
“The Safe Haven Baby Box was not physically removed from the fire station, and there are no plans to remove it. The box has been locked, and we have been temporarily removed as a “baby box” location from the Safe Haven Baby Box website.”
Kovach did not say if or when the station will reopen the box itself, but that it will remain closed temporarily “due to a disagreement over language contained in Ohio’s Safe Haven Law and the inability of legislators and the Ohio Department of Heath to rectify the problem.”
“The primary mission of all fire departments is to protect and save lives. As such, the Safe Haven Baby Box program directly supports that mission. We want everyone in the Sunbury area to know that regardless of the “baby box” being physically open, we are still, and will always be, a safe haven baby surrender location according to Ohio law.”
Ohio’s safe haven law, which has been on the books since 2001, allows for a parent in distress who cannot care for their child to leave the child – up to 30 days old — with a medical worker at either a hospital or fire department, or with a law enforcement officer at any law enforcement agency.
If the infant does not show signs of abuse, the parents will not face any charges for leaving the child, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. In addition to the Sunbury box, a Safe Haven Baby Box at the Union Township Fire Department in Batavia has also been removed.
Since 2016, more than 120 babies nationwide have been surrendered through calls to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes hotline. In the last 12 months, nine children have been surrendered via a baby box nationwide, Safe Haven said.
The remaining Ohio baby boxes can be found at the following locations:
- Hicksville Community Hospital- 208 N. Columbus St, Hicksville, OH 43526
- Van Wert Health- 1250 S Washington St, Van Wert, OH 45891
- Defiance Fire Department- 702 W 3rd St, Defiance, OH 43512
- Delhi TWP Fire Headquarters -697 Neeb Road, Cincinnati, OH 45233
- Troy Fire Department Station #11- 110 E Canal St, Troy, OH, 45373
- St. Rita’s Medical Center-730 W. Market Street, Lima, OH, 45801