Proposal would create ‘baby boxes’ in Wisconsin where newborns could safely be abandoned

Baby found wrapped in garbage bag in Wood County
Proposal would create ‘baby boxes’ in Wisconsin where newborns could safely be abandoned

Newborn safety boxes could be installed at medical centers and law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin, under a new proposal at the state Capitol.

Sen. Dale Kooyenga is drafting a bill, along with first responders and hospitals, that would add the boxes as an option for parents in Wisconsin who wish to safely surrender a newborn baby.

“If we want to protect the newborn child in this last resort situation, we must provide a safer way for parents to surrender the baby without fear of criminal prosecution,” Kooyenga, a Republican from Brookfield, said in a news release.

Wisconsin’s “Safe Haven” law allows parents to anonymously surrender a child within 72 hours of birth without facing criminal prosecution.

Under Kooyenga’s plan, the baby boxes would be equipped with heating, cooling and a silent alarm that notifies emergency personnel within 30 seconds of a baby being placed inside the box.

“Fire stations are a safe place to bring a newborn now and probably a little safer than other areas because we have all the medical supplies to deal with a newborn,” said Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis. “We have the paramedics and the EMTs that are trained for medical issues.”

Davis and a spokesperson from the Madison Police Department said they can’t remember a time when an infant was surrendered in Madison under the Safe Haven law, but they are always prepared in the event that it does happen.

“We’re ready and prepared always to deal with whatever the community throws at us or asks us to do,” Davis added.

It would be up to local municipalities and hospitals to decide whether they want the baby boxes, and they would be responsible for paying for them, according to Kooyenga.

Davis said he believes the baby boxes could create a positive option in expanding the Safe Haven law but said he was concerned that it would become “an unfunded mandate.”

“I always have concern when the states mandates communities do things without funding attached to it. As fire chief that makes me a little bit uneasy,” Davis said.

Baby boxes have already been installed in Indiana, Ohio and Arizona, according to Kooyenga’s office.

Kooyenga said a need for the boxes is shown after an incident that happened last week in Wood County where deputies and Marshfield police officers found an abandoned vehicle in a medical center’s parking lot. Authorities said a baby boy was found wrapped in a bath towel in a tied plastic garbage bag inside the vehicle.

The baby was rushed inside to the emergency department of the medical center and was temporarily revived by staff, but he later succumbed to his injuries and died, the Sheriff’s Office said.

“This was a horrific scene that could have been avoided,” Kooyenga said in a news release.

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