ASK IT: Do first local responder agencies have Safe Haven boxes? 

Taylor Six/The Register

The Richmond Fire Department is working to become a Safe Place.

We have all seen the scenario on blockbuster movies and crime shows of a troubled, young person leaving a newborn child outside a hospital or fire station.

But for some, the situation can be all too real.

In a recent submission to our series, Ask It Madison County, in which residents submit questions or ideas they want investigated, a Richmond woman asked if there is the potential for a "Safe Haven Baby Box" to be installed at the local fire station.

A Baby Box is a safety device provided for under the state’s Safe Haven Law and legally permits a mother in crisis to safely, securely and anonymously surrender their baby if the mother is unable to care for her newborn, according to Safe Haven Baby Boxes' website, shbb.org.

Typically, the device is installed in an exterior wall of a designated fire station or hospital. It has an exterior door that automatically locks upon placement of a newborn inside the Baby Box, and an interior door that allows a medical staff member to secure the surrendered newborn from inside the designated building.

While there are none of these devices in Kentucky due to pending legislation that would allow their use, the Kentucky's Safe Infant Act allows babies to be dropped off with an emergency provider at a staffed police station, fire station, hospital or a participating place of worship within 30 days of birth.

According to Assistant Chief Richard Tate with the Richmond Fire Department, there have been no babies dropped off at their fire stations in his near 19 years with RFD.

Chief Sam Kirby agreed and said he had never heard of it happening in Richmond.

And while they may not be able to have a box installed just yet, the department is working to become a Safe Place, which is an accredited location children from birth to age 18 can go if they feel unsafe. Safe Places are marked with a large, bright yellow placard in their windows.

"We are in the training process of becoming a Safe Place," Kirby said. "The only reason we haven't done so is because we were going through training, but because of COVID(-19) we had to cancel the training."

He explained this is a partnership with Arbor Youth Services out of Lexington, an organization that provides a supportive environment to children and youth who have suffered abuse, abandonment, homelessness or are at-risk for such.

Once the station becomes a Safe Place, if an at-risk youth were to show up, the firefighters and staff are trained to assess the needs of the individual and keep them safe until a representative of Arbor Youth arrives to move forward.

According to Lori Clemons, the executive director of Arbor Youth, upon assessing the child and their situation, where the case goes from there "totally varies."

Naturally, if any child is harmed, they go straight to the hospital. However, upon talking with the child, the Arbor Youth employee will ask if the situation is safe to call their families.

If it is not, the representative will call the local police or sheriff's department to notify they have the child. That way, if a missing persons report is filed on a child, the police will know they are safe.

She said legally, the child and representative have 72 hours before the parents or guardians have to be notified.

"Rarely do we get to that point of reaching the 72-hour marker," she said.

If it does, the service has the option to launch an investigation through the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. If that happens, she said, the cabinet will investigate and determine if it is safe for the child to return home.

A lot of situations are handled through family mediations, as Arbor Services often receives calls from runaways.

"Sometimes it just takes a mediation," she said. "Forty-three percent of runaways that we have seen identify as LGBTQ+ and are running away from home because their parents or guardian don't agree with that. That is actually what happened in a call we received from someone in Richmond."

According to Clemons, her office received a call from a 15-year-old who was running away from home after they were told by their parents they would not be able to live under the same roof.

The individual looked up Arbor Youth Services, and at the time, there were no Safe Places in Richmond.

The teen was instructed to wait at the sheriff's department until a person from Arbor Services could arrive.

"That is when our group realized we didn't have any Safe Places in Richmond at all," she said.

That is when the organization reached out to Richmond fire.

A lot of the time, Clemons said, it is just a matter of getting a child back to their home safely.

One example she gave was of a youth who had traveled into Kentucky from out-of-state with someone who they thought was their friend and began to feel unsafe.

After searching for help, the individual was put into contact with Arbor Youth and was able to be safely transported back home.

"Often the kid comes to us," she said. "It is typically youth fleeing an unsafe situation."

Although this program is entirely different from that of the Safe Haven box, Kirby said if the situation ever did present itself, the Richmond Fire Department would protect and help an abandoned baby.

For more information about Arbor Youth Services, or to become a Safe Place, visit arborky.org/.

To submit something you want investigated by The Register, email editor@richmondregister.com and send your questions with your name, city, zip code, email and phone number. Questions can also be mailed in. Send your question with your name, city, zip, email and phone number to Richmond Register c/o Ask It Madison County, PO Box 99, Richmond, KY, 40475.

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