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. The 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 an 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 four 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. Understand the Challenges: Unattended Children in Public Libraries
Use the Template: Review and Revise Your Polices Relating to Unattended Children in Your Library
Get a Second Opinion: Ask a System Consultant to Review Your Draft

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 guidlines 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.”
  • A U.S. governement publication called When Your Child Visits the Library Alone says: “Preschool children visiting a library should always be accompanied by an adult or teenager” and implies that school-age children can visit the library without an adult of teen caregiver.
  • The New Jersey Library Association asked Grayson Barber, a lawyer who served on the ACLU-NJ board, “for a legal analysis and recommendations for a specific age at which young children should be permitted to use the library unattended.” She recommended that “age six should be the limit for unattended children, and that caregivers should be presumed to be competent at age 11.” Note: The Red Cross offers babysitting classes for young people eleven and older.
  • 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 peope 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: LTA’s New York State Policy Database: Unattended Children

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.

Brooklyn Public Library TBD 718-230-2199 Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Mary Jean Jakubowski jakubowskim@buffalolib.org 716-858-7180 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System Valle Blair vblair@cclslib.org 716-484-7135 x230 Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System Julie Wever Ewa Jankowska wever@cefls.org ejankowska@cefls.org 518-563-5190 x 18 518-563-5190 x 11 Finger Lakes Library System Amanda Schiavulli aschiavulli@flls.org 607-273-4074 Four County Library System Sherry Gorman sgorman@4cls.org 607-723-8236 x332 Mid-Hudson Library System Rebekkah Smith Aldrich rsmith@midhudson.org 845-471-6060 Mid-York Library System Wanda Bruchis wbruchis@midyork.org 315-735-8328 x 233 Mohawk Valley Library System Eric Trahan etrahan@mvls.info 518-355-2010 Monroe Library System Sally Snow Sally.Snow@libraryweb.org 585-428-8051 Nassau Library System Elizabeth Olesh elizabeth@nassaulibrary.org 516-292-8920 x237 New York Public Library Kevin Winkler kevinwinkler@nypl.org 212-930-0720 Nioga Library System Lisa Erickson leric@nioga.org 716-434-6167 x33 North Country Library System Paulette Roes proes@ncls.org 315-782-5540 Onondaga County Public Library System Amanda Travis atravis@onlib.org 315-435-1825 Pioneer Library System Lauren Moore lmoore@pls-net.org 585-394-8260 Queens Borough Public Library Cecilia Nocella Cecilia.A.Nocella@queenslibrary.org 718-990-0796 Ramapo Catskill Library System Robert Hubsher Grace Riario rhubsher@rcls.org griario@rcls.org 845-243-3747 x 242 845-243-3747 x 233 Southern Adirondack Library System Sara Dallas Jennifer Ferriss sdallas@sals.edu jferriss@sals.edu 518-584-7300 518-584-7300 Southern Tier Library System Brian M. Hildreth Al Oliveras bhildreth@stls.org aoliveras@stls.org 607-962-3141 x 207 607-962-3141 x 212 Suffolk Cooperative Library System Diane Eidelman diane@suffolknet.org 631-286-1600 x1312 Upper Hudson Library System Tim Burke tim.burke@uhls.lib.ny.us 518-437-9880 Westchester Library System Terry Kirchner tkirchner@wlsmail.org 914-231-3223