When Can You Leave a Child Home Alone?
All of us have seen the hit movie Home Alone. We’ve all laughed through the movie. However many American children are indeed left behind at home all alone every day. Sometimes they are left behind because of reasons beyond the parent’s control but in some cases, they are left behind out of sheer neglect or child abuse. If you are a parent and planning to leave your child alone at home, you should be aware of certain legal guidelines.
Maryland and Illinois law specify the age at which a child can be left alone at home. In Maryland it is 8 years while it is 14 in Illinois. So leaving a child below these years is against the law in these states. In the other states there are guidelines laid down by the state agency and these guidelines test the ability of the child to be left home alone. These guidelines consider many factors including the age and maturity if the child, the circumstances, the safety of the area where the child is left alone and the steps taken to secure the safety of the child. Here are the general guidelines based on the age of the child:
7 & under – Should never be left alone at any time including in cars, backyards and playgrounds. The caretaker’s ability to intervene and the circumstances are the determining factors.
8 to 10 years -May be left alone but only for 11/2 hours or less during daylight or early evening hours.
11 to 12 years – Should not be left alone for more than 3 hours. They cannot be left alone late at night or in circumstances where they have to act in a responsible manner beyond their age.
13 to 15 years – Can be left alone during the daytime.
16 to 17 years – Can be left alone. In some cases, they can be left alone for two consecutive overnight periods.
Is your child ready?
Each child is different. So when you have to decide whether your child is ready to be left alone, you have to take the decision based on your child. Just because your brother child who is the same age as your child is comfortable being left alone, it does not mean that your child too is ready to be left alone. Here are some guidelines you should consider when taking the decision:
• Age and maturity of your child
• The time period you intend to leave the child alone
• Is the child independent and does the child follow directions?
• Is the child being left all alone or are there other children and what are their ages?
• How safe is your neighborhood?
• Do you have a neighbor who is willing to check on the child from time to time when the child is alone?
• Does the child feel safe about being alone at home?
If you have no option but you leave your child alone at home, here are some safety tips to help you:
• Ensure that your child knows his/her full name, address and phone number
• Provide the child with a list of number he or she can contact in an emergency
• Let your neighbors know that your child will be alone
• Call and check with the child several times while you are away
• Ensure that your child knows how the windows and doors work and how to lock them
• Explain to your child that he/she should not go to other homes including neighbors without first asking for your permission
• Ensure that your child does not have access to oven or other dangerous articles in the absence of an adult in the house
• Designate a “safe house” where the child can run to incase of danger
• Consider enrolling your child in programs offered by schools, churches and other organizations during the period he or she has to remain alone.