'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Return of the Latch Key Children 

With the recessionary hurricane making landfall, latch key kids are becoming more visible and more numerous:

In the Prince George's County community of Riverdale Park, town officials have noted a distressing sign of the national economic downturn: more children left home alone to fend for themselves by working parents too strapped to afford child care.

The problem was discovered by code enforcement officers who inspect apartments in the town of 7,000. They used to come across such cases once every couple of years. Then, six months ago, they found one child left alone, followed by another and another.

In one instance, a kindergarten-age girl was found hiding in a closet, apparently because she was scared, code enforcement officers said. In another, children aged 10 or 12 were missing school to watch their younger siblings.

Riverdale's experience comes amid an increasing economic strain in child care across the Washington region. In an area known for day-care waiting lists, many operators report a rise in vacancies as parents withdraw their children or cut back on hours because they can no longer afford the cost.

The phenomenon is not universal, but it has struck in many middle- and working-class areas as lost jobs, reduced work schedules and foreclosed homes affect families with few reserves. Many have confronted tough choices about the care of their children.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Phyllis Waters, president of the Professional Child Care Provider Network of Prince George's County. "You're seeing people just dropping out. . . . They're taking them out of day care and putting them into homes with grandmothers and neighbors and whoever else."

Just as with the occupation of Iraq, where I have attempted to resist the depersonalization of Iraqi death, I believe that it is also important to recognize the individual traumatic consequences of this recesssion. While bankers line up at the Treasury window for billions in TARP funds, people are starving and parents find themselves forced to abandon their children.

Hat tip to Prometheus 6.

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