Founder Monica Kelsey’s viral videos are bringing new awareness to what happens when babies are given up anonymously through safe haven laws.
If you've spent any time scrolling through TikTok lately (and really, who hasn't?), a video featuring something called a "Safe Haven Baby Box" has probably landed in your feed. And you can't watch Monica Kelsey — the founder of that device — describe receiving a newborn, dropped anonymously to be given up to new parents, and not want to cry yourself. Her latest TikTok videos have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, shining a light on the anguish a mother must feel when giving up her baby.
For more than five years, Kelsey has been on a mission to make sure that parents in crisis can surrender newborns safely. The Safe Haven Baby Box is Kelsey’s brainchild. Kelsey herself was given up by her own birth mother two hours after birth. Raised by a loving adoptive family, she didn’t learn all of the harrowing details until she was in her 30s — at 17, her birth mother was raped and left for dead. She survived, and when she found out she was pregnant, she decided to carry the baby to term.
The revelation inspired Kelsey to write a book and, ultimately, create the Safe Haven Baby Box as a solution for mothers in crisis.
How does a Safe Haven Baby Box work?
When a person opens the drawer, a silent alarm signals first responders. There’s time to tuck the baby inside, shut the door (it locks automatically), then leave anonymously — no face-to-face encounter needed. Most of the boxes are at fire stations or hospitals, where an EMT or other professional can retrieve the baby almost immediately. Kelsey, not surprisingly, has worked as a paramedic and volunteer firefighter herself.
In this video, she explains how a Safe Haven Baby Box works:
Where do you find Safe Haven Baby Boxes?
You can locate dozens of boxes in multiple states. While a good deal of them are in Kelsey’s home state of Indiana, it's important to note that all 50 states have Safe Haven Laws designed to keep newborns alive and protect parents in crisis. Hospitals and fire stations are often safe-haven locations. As expected, though, laws vary state by state: Four states require the mother to do the relinquishing, and a handful of states need the newborn to be less than 72 hours old. In nearly half the states, the safe-haven staff must ask about medical and family history, so in those places, total anonymity is not an option.
The first Safe Haven Baby Box was installed in 2016. So, why are they just going viral now? Maybe it’s the fact that Kelsey consistently posts videos on TikTok explaining how the boxes, along with Safe Haven laws, work. Perhaps the recent videos dedicated to new drop-offs caught the attention of TikTokers, and they shared the videos enough to pop Kelsey’s content into a “trending” category.
“I absolutely think that TikTok is making a huge difference on the education piece of the Safe Haven Laws across this country,” Kelsey says. “Safe Haven Baby Boxes aren't in every state, but we're seeing an uptick in our hotline calls” from women nationwide looking for resources. (The hotline is 1-866-99BABY1)
Do people actually use these boxes?
Two babies have been received just this week, and it’s hard not to think it could be related to her increased TikTok views. Otherwise, a baby being left in a Safe Haven Baby Box is a fairly rare event — to date, since November 2017, 17 babies have been placed in one of the boxes, including the two this week. In describing one of the most recent experiences, Kelsey broke down and cried:
Most often, parents work through Kelsey’s hotline to hand a child off for adoption the more traditional way. “We have more handoffs than we do babies in our boxes. We'll give women options, and they choose. We’ve facilitated countless adoption plans and countless parenting plans,” Kelsey says, stressing that leaving a baby in one of the Safe Haven Baby Boxes is really a last resort.
While Kelsey gives speeches on the pro-life circuit, safe-haven laws are supported by every side of the abortion debate. Though Justice Amy Coney Barrett has been bringing up safe haven laws recently, those on the pro-choice side are for them as well. Safe haven laws are “part and parcel with gender equality” Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University, told The 19th.
As Kelsey stresses, the important thing is to give women choices. “If you give women options and don't tell them what they have to do, they'll make a good decision for themselves,” she says. “We just have to entrust that they're doing what's right for them. And it might not be what I would do, but this isn't a decision that I have to make.”
“In Indiana, we used to find two babies dead a year in our state from abandonment. And since we launched baby boxes in April of 2016, we haven't had a dead newborn in our state since,” Kelsey says. “And so education is definitely key.”