About 40 percent of children spend some time alone at home, usually after school, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The PhoneFriend support line, a call-in service of the nonprofit Prevent Child Abuse of Metropolitan Washington, aims to fill in where it can.

PhoneFriend is available to any Washington area child aged 5 to 15. Since 1985 volunteers, who must be 16 or older, have heard out young callers on issues ranging from algebra trouble to arguments with a friend. The group also provides help in emergencies and offers resources for abuse cases. (Such calls are rare.)

While the service invites calls about personal problems, many kids call out of boredom, said Laurie Nathan, director of programs. Last year, she said, the group handled approximately 5,500 calls.

PhoneFriend volunteers don't "give advice or pass judgment," said Nathan. Instead, they are taught to use reflective listening -- a way of asking questions that repeat what someone says. This approach is meant to help children come up with their own solutions, she said.

Kids are still encouraged to call when they need to even when parents are home. Hours for calls are Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. To reach PhoneFriend, kids call 202-223-2244. Interested volunteers should see www.pcamw.org. -- Samantha Ganey