Lots of children aged 9 and over are told to go home after school, lock the door, and not let anyone in until Mom gets home. Or they’re told to go to the library. Typically their parents simply can’t afford child care, or an emergency situation sends kids to the library as a baby-sitting service for a short period of time.

For a closer look at what happens to parents in New York City, take a look at this New York Times article, “Children Left at Home, Worriedly.” Life in NYC for many lower-income working parents, usually single moms, is truly life on the edge, in which every penny counts. The story says:

“The only option many parents have is to quit the job and get thrown out of their house because they can’t pay the rent, or have your child taken away for lack of supervision,” said Richard Wexler, director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a nonprofit child advocacy organization. One reason states may not have laws on the subject, Mr. Wexler suggested, is that “it would bring a hidden problem out in the open, which is all of the parents who leave children home alone not because they want to, but because they have to.”

Although the story doesn’t mention how many parents use the library as a place they believe their children will be safe between the time school lets out and the time they get off work, all of us working in libraries in lots of other cities, and suburbs, and small towns, serving lower-income families know how often those parents do. This story is worth reading because all too often those of us working in libraries don’t get much of a chance to understand the kinds of pressure these parents are under.