New mothers in crisis have a safe and anonymous option of last resort after the city of Tuscaloosa dedicated its first Safe Haven Baby Box Wednesday afternoon.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, Fire Chief Randy Smith and Probate Judge Rob Robertson joined Safe Haven's founder and CEO Monica Kelsey at Fire Station 1 on Greensboro Avenue to discuss the benefits of a Baby Box and cut a ceremonial ribbon.

Alabama lawmakers passed a bill last year to expand the period during which new parents can legally surrender an infant from three days up to 45.

As the Thread first reported in October, that move led an anonymous donor to reach out to the nonprofit Kids to Love and donate enough money to install 10 Safe Haven Baby Boxes across the state - the city agreed to receive one and it was finally blessed and dedicated Wednesday.

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The drop-off boxes are meant to serve as a last resort for new parents who decide they are not able to raise a newborn - for 45 days after the child is born, parents can anonymously surrender the infant in a Baby Box without any face-to-face interaction or fear of criminal prosecution.

Staff at the drop-off site, usually a fire station or hospital, notify the Department of Human Resources and after the child is medically evaluated, DHR places the baby in a foster home as a permanent plan is developed.

As followers of statewide news may be aware, the city of Madison blessed their baby box just months ago in January. Days ago, a newborn girl became the third baby surrendered their in four months.

"When the chief first introduced this concept to me, I just admit I was very reluctant about it, not because of the mission, not because of what it means, but because you worry about a situation where someone places a baby into a box and making certain that that child in those few minutes is going to be safe and sound," Maddox said. "As we began these discussions, Chief continued to assuage every concern myself and team members could throw at him."

Safe Haven CEO Monica Kelsey said she was inspired to start her company by her own circumstances as a newborn in South Africa.

In August 1972, a young 17-year-old girl was brutally attacked and raped and left on the side of the road," she said. "This was when abortion was illegal in our country even in the cases of rape and incest."

Kelsey said a suspect was captured and jailed, but just when the woman's life was returning to normal, she realized she was pregnant.

"She gave birth in April of 1973 and abandoned her child two hours after that child was born, and that child was me," she said. "So I stand on the front lines of this movement as one of these kids who wasn't lovingly, safely, legally saved in a Safe Haven baby box by a parent who wanted me."

A parent surrendering a newborn can walk up and open the box, now installed on the exterior of Fire Station 1 on Greensboro Avenue. A bag with resources for the parents will drop out of the box, and the baby can be placed inside. Once the door to the box closes again, firemen will be alerted that the box has been used - they can immediately access a video feed from inside the box to ensure an infant is inside, then move quickly to secure the baby.

Chief Smith said in trial, the department was getting someone to the Baby Box in under two minutes.

"It is a good day for Tuscaloosa to have this option, for the first time in its history, which is an anonymous option for a parent who wants to save the life of their child but doesn't want to talk to anyone while they hand that child over. The option of still walking into this first station is still there and we want these parents to walk in. But if they wont - we don't want to need a box and not have it."

For more news from the area, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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