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There's a place in York City where the only goal is to make sure children are safe.

That's it. Just a safe space for children 6 and under when their family is in upheaval for whatever reason.

Sometimes utilities have been cut off, or there's not a home at all. Sometimes a parent or another child needs emergency medical treatment, and the family has no one to turn to.

Sometimes parents realize that they are on the verge of harming their child and have to get away.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for nearly 30 years, the Children's Aid Society's Lehman Center has run its crisis nursery to fill those needs.

"The goal is simple," said Janelle Swartz, the crisis nursery program manager. "Children can come here and be safe during times of uncertainty."

In the past three years, the nursery has cared for almost 2,000 children, the largest number it's ever served. Up to six children can be in the space at a time, and a typical stay can run for three nights, Swartz said. A team of 15 takes care of them.

The space at 400 W. Market St. is bright and cheerful, with a playground in the back yard and fun murals on the walls.

But it's also crowded. The nursery is at capacity most of the time, Swartz said, and the center works with families and social services to ensure every child has a safe place to go.

The center is looking to buy the house next door to expand not just the nursery but also art therapy, parent support groups and family advocacy.

Demand for services has stepped up since the recession, with 94 percent of families who use the nursery falling below the poverty line and 75 percent lacking family support, according to Lehman statistics.

But the community has also stepped in to help, with donated toys filling the playroom, a Girl Scout painting murals and volunteers setting up a swing set bought with grant money.

The center is looking for more help as it expands this vital service. We hope the community will answer the call.

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