A local woman has launched a grassroots effort to bring more resources and options to parents in crisis.
Breeze Johnson, a former social worker and now the owner of a local daycare facility, is on a mission to raise upwards of $13,000 for a Safe Haven baby box that would likely be installed at the Vincennes Fire Department, 928 Vigo St.
Safe Haven is a national organization that designs and manufacturers a special kind of “baby box” that can be installed into the side of a first responder facility.
Every state has a Safe Haven law, which allows mothers or fathers to leave a healthy infant at a fire station, hospital, police station, etc.m without facing criminal charges.
The Safe Haven baby box, Johnson said, was designed to offer a parents in crisis an option and a safe, secure environment for the child itself.
The way baby boxes work, Johnson explained, is when a mother or father chooses to leave an infant, they can go to the Safe Haven baby box and open a “high tech drawer” that is placed in the exterior wall of a facility, often a fire department. When that drawer is opened, a silent alarm is triggered, she said, which dispatches to 911.
And there are multiple fail safes in place to make sure someone responds quickly.
“When the baby is placed inside the drawer, there is a pressure pad underneath, which also sounds a silent alarm,” Johnson said. “And there is yet another that sounds when the drawer is shut.”
The box automatically locks from the outside, she said, and can only be accessed from the inside by a firefighter or paramedic.
Per Safe Haven law protocol, the child is immediately taken to the nearest hospital for an evaluation. That child is then handed over to Children and Family Services who will place the child with an approved foster family, Johnson said.
Per the Safe Haven law, parents have 30 days to come forward after seeking help.
Safe Haven baby boxes are gaining nationwide attention, Johnson said. There are six in Indiana, she said, although the closest is 85 miles away in Mount Vernon.
But the boxes do have their critics, who say that for safety reasons such baby surrenders should be done face-to-face.
Supporters of baby boxes counter that being required to make a face-to-face surrender may actually deter them, putting babies at risk of being abandoned.
Johnson contacted Safe Haven about having a baby box placed here, and the cost is $10,000. She wants to raise a total of $13,000 for the labor costs associated with installing it, although she is hopeful someone will come forward and offer an in-kind donation.
She also needs money for marketing, she said; the box is only good if people know it's there.
She started raising money about three months ago, she said, and she's collected $3,000 so far.
But a Safe Haven baby box, she said, is about more than just giving mothers in crisis a place to safely leave their infants. That, she said, is actually the last thing Safe Haven advocates want.
Placed above the drawer, Johnson said, in huge block letters, is information and a phone number women and men can call for help.
“It comes with a support system, so they know they have safe options,” Johnson said. “I work with children and families all the time. Every mother responds (to motherhood) differently. I've seen parents in crisis, and there is no socioeconomic line. They can be poverty-stricken, (struggling with) mental health, have a drug addiction, maybe already have several kids.
“When I was in social work, I saw a lot of mothers, young mothers, who just weren't sure how they were going to do things, how to swing it or what to do next. The more options and resources people have, the better decisions they make.”
But how much would a baby box be used here?
Never, Johnson hopes.
“It sounds absolutely crazy,” she said, “but you hope no one ever uses it. In your heart, you hope never. You hope, if you have a mother in crisis, she becomes familiar with Safe Haven laws, familiar with her options.
“Even if she drives by to check (the baby box) out, she will see a giant placard telling her she has other options and how to access those resources.”
People interested in donating to Johnson's cause can do so by visiting www.shbb.org. Click donate, Johnson said, then select “in honor of” and type Vincennes in the box. That ensures the money is set aside for the local crowd-funding effort.
Johnson said people, too, can make checks payable to Knights of Columbus with “baby box” in the memo line and send them to 401 Felt King Road, Vincennes, IN, 47591.
For more information, contact Johnson at 812-887-8133.