Spotlight on Unattended Children

Spotlight on Policies Relating to Unattended Children

“The people in our community consider the public library to be a secure place, a place where they can be safe from crime, gangs, and drugs. A library is a place where people are comfortable sending their children. We have a high number of unattended children and latchkey children who come to the library after school because there is no adult at home. This is simply the reality of life here.”

This quote from a column written by John Bernardi, in the November/December 2005 issue of Public Libraries, describes the situation that exists in many New York public libraries today. The resources in this topic have been selected to help library board members and directors develop a clear understanding of the issues to consider when developing policies relating to unattended children in the library.

There are three sections in this topic. You can scroll down to see each section or you can click on the links below to go directly to a specific section.

Section 1

Understand the Challenges: Unattended Children in Public Libraries

State Law or Regulations: The State of New York has no laws or regulations regarding the age a child may be left alone without supervision. 

Association Guidelines: Neither the New York Library Association (NYLA) nor the Library Trustees Association of New York State (LTA) provide suggested guidelines for addressing the issues surrounding unattended children, although both provide links to sample library policies on the subject. 

In the absence of state laws or regulations and suggested guidelines from professional associations, decisions relating to unattended children must be made by each public library board.  Most of the general resources that address the issues surrounding unattended children in public libraries focus on the age of the minor children.

Age of the Unattended Minors

There is no concensus on how old a child must be before he or she can be left in the library unattended. 

  • The New York State Office of Children and Family Services states: “OCFS is often asked questions regarding the appropriate age to leave a child alone, or what age is appropriate to allow a child to begin babysitting. There are no straightforward answers to these questions. All children develop at their own rate, and with their own special needs and abilities. Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age. Likewise, there are some teenagers who are too irresponsible or who have special needs that limit their ability to be safe if they are left alone. Parents and guardians need to make intelligent, reasoned decisions regarding these matters.”
  • NJLA Statement on Children and Libraries: The New Jersey Library Association and the New Jersey Library Trustee Association provided funding for Grayson Barber, Esq. to develop this document regarding unattended children in New Jersey public libraries. This document is provided as background information on this topic and for the benefit of the members of NJLA and NJLTA. Every public library is encouraged to adopt its own policy regarding unattended children and have the local policy reviewed by the library’s attorney.
  • The American Red Cross offers Babysitting Courses for children 11-years and older. American Red Cross
  • The web site Mothering asked readers if they would let their nine-year-old attend a book club at the library alone.  Seventy-six percent of the people who responded said “Yes, sure.  Why not?”  Another ten percent said “Maybe.”

Section 2

Use the Template: Review and Revise Your Policy on Unattended Children

The centerpiece of each of the NYLTO policy topics is a Policy Development Template. These templates have been developed by June Garcia, a nationally recognized authority on public library policies and co-author of Creating for Policies for Results: From Chaos to Clarity, (American Library Association, 2003).

For more information on using the templates, go to Structure Your Discussions: Policy Development Templates section in the Library Policy ABCs: Everything You Need to Know about Developing Library Policies topic.

Unattended Children in the Library Template: This template lists the questions that need to be addressed relating to the library’s policies and regulations unattended children in the library. This is a brief sampling of the questions you and your fellow board members will consider:

  1. What does the library mean by the phrase “unattended child?” 
  2. What should a staff member do when an unattended child is being disruptive?
  3. What should a staff member do when an unattended child is still at the library at closing time? Is a staff member authorized to drive the child home?
  4. Under what circumstances, if any, should a staff member contact the police, social services or other agency about an unattended child at the library?

To Generate Ideas see the Development Questions on the Mid-Hudson Library System’s External Policy page: : Unattended Children / Child Safety

Database policies are to provide information and to spark ideas, but should be used in conjunction with the templates.

Section 3

Get a Second Opinion: Ask a System Consultant to Review Your Draft When you have finished your draft policy statement and regulations, you may send it to your system representative for review and feedback, if you wish.