Middlesboro student hopes to help mothers, babies in need

Published 12:16 pm Thursday, July 20, 2023



One Middlesboro high schooler is working to bring a Safe Haven Baby Box to Middlesboro ARH.

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Olivia Johnson,17, is part of the Miss Kentucky and Miss America scholarship organizations. Johnson is competing for Miss Kentucky’s teen, and one of the tenants of the program is community service, and Johnson has chosen a Safe Haven Baby Box as her community service project.

Johnson said she thought for a long time about her hometown’s need, when her mother found the Safe Haven Baby box website.

“She showed me the Facebook ad and she was like, ‘Olivia look at this, isn’t this amazing?’” Johnson said. “And I agreed that would be something amazing for Middlesboro to have.”

Johnson recalled the conversation she had with her mother the day she chose it as her project.

“The world needs baby boxes and Middlesboro, Kentucky needs a baby box, and at the time I was 16 years old, and I might be 16 years old, but I want to do this and I think I can do this,” said Johnson. “Through the Miss Kentucky scholarship organization I’m able to have a platform to promote Safe Haven Baby Boxes. So I’m not only able to talk about it through social media and my friends at school, but I’m able to promote it through this organization where thousands of people are going to be able to hear about it.”

Johnson has gathered a small group of advocates to help with the project, including Leah Jones, a school social worker for Middlesboro Independent Schools and Pineville Independent Schools who also has experience in child protective services.

478=5Jones says there is not a baby box in all of Virginia and there is only one in Tennessee, which is in Knoxville. According to Johnson, there are at least 16 in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s Safe Haven Law says a mother has up to 30 days to surrender a baby, Jones said. There are similar laws in all other states, she said, and their focus is on protecting newborns from endangerment by providing parents with an alternative to criminal abandonment.

In Kentucky, a baby may be surrendered up to 30 days old or younger. An unharmed newborn may be anonymously relinquished by the parent of a child who does not intend to return for the child. A parent may relinquish the child at any Kentucky safe haven provider on duty at a hospital, fire station, police station, EMS provider or a marked safe haven church.

“This law has been around forever, just many people don’t know about it, but when you have a baby box it’s a little bit more known and of course it’s a little more secretive,” said Jones.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes may be installed at a variety of locations, but  Johnson chose the hospital, which has been approved by administrator Mike Slusher. Johnson explains that to operate a Safe Haven Baby Box, the parent opens the door to the baby box and a silent alarm is triggered and a call goes to dispatch. The parent then places the baby in the bassinet, where a sensor is located on the inside of the box that triggers a second dispatch call. When a parent opens the door, a packet of resources are dropped out of the box for the mother. Then, the parent closes the door, which sets off a third alarm and calls dispatch and locks the exterior door. Emergency personnel retrieves the baby from the inside, evaluates and takes the baby to the hospital.

Johnson says resources and care for the mother are just as important as care for the baby, and resources will be provided detailing aftercare including mental health resources and medical attention procedures if desired.

Jones said an initial fundraiser at Levitt raised close to $1,000. The box itself costs around $10,000. This, paired with the contractor fees, comes to about $15,000. Jones says Johnson has already raised roughly $4,000 for the installation of the box.

According to Johnson, victims of rape, poverty and domestic violence could benefit from another option. Relinquishing a baby in a Safe Haven Baby Box is a safe option for the baby and mother.

“We have an LMU campus. We have a Southeast campus. We have a lot of college students that would benefit from this,” said Jones.

“You don’t have to be from Bell County to relinquish your baby, a lot of these mom’s may not be from Bell County. They may be from Lee County, or Claiborne or Union County, and we are far enough away that they feel that they have that confidentiality, yet, we’re still going to service a pretty large area.”

Johnson is raising funds at all the Levitt concerts, as well as other community events in the area. Johnson will also soon be found working with Lincoln Memorial University’s social work program students hosting events, local law enforcement, as well as the commonwealth attorney’s office.