Tanisha Gill was only 23-years-old, a single mother of two boys just off welfare and nervous about keeping her new job as a night shift clerk at a bank.
"I made a bad choice," she says.
As CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, when her babysitter called in sick, the choice Gill made was to go to work, leaving her sleeping children alone.
Gill returned to discover her 2-year-old had fallen to his death from the ninth floor balcony just minutes earlier.
She was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter.
"I was just trying to raise them, that's all I was doing," she says. "I didn't have the resources necessary to do the job. I didn't have enough people in my corner to help me watch the kids."
It is a growing problem that experts can't even put a number on. Earlier estimates say more than 7 million children are left home alone on a regular basis. The U.S. Census Bureau now even has a name for it: children in self-care.
"Every morning I leave my house I say 'Honey be safe, be well and please make sure nothing happens,'" says one single working mother who wished to remain anonymous.
With a job that barely covers the rent, she says there's simply no way around leaving her 9-year-old daughter home alone.
When asked if she realizes she is taking a chance, the woman asks, "What choice do I have?"
"I worry that could be me out there," she says. "I could be going to jail."
And that's exactly what happened to Andrea Thompson, who says she left her kids alone for three minutes.
"I spent almost three days in jail," says Thompson. "Straight from work, straight to jail."
And three years later, she finally has her kids back but is still fighting to rebuild her life. She had left that day knowing that the sitter, who lived across the street, was on her way over. What she didn't know is that the sitter would call police and turn her in. She is still paying the price for that choice.
"I lost my kids, i lost my job, my money and my self respect," she says. "I lost everything."
"It makes me furious because these are impossible choices for women," says child care advocate Marie Wilson.
Wilson says it's a miracle there aren't more cases like this.
And when they do hit the headlines she says, there's only one question: Where is your mother?
"Every woman watching this show, every mother that has watched one of these mother be persecuted says 'That could have happened to me, I know that could have happened to me,''' said Wilson.
"Everyone is so judgmental," says Gill. "I made a mistake - the worst mistake of my life, and I still have nightmares about it.
"I wanted to show them that mommy is doing her best so we can have a better life."
Gill now says it would have been far better to just stay on welfare because then, at least, she'd still have her baby boy.
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