Family Law

Home Alone: How Old is Old Enough

Most parents understand that it is always wrong to leave an infant or toddler home alone while you go out - even for a quick run to the store. But when is a child old enough? Surprisingly, there aren't many laws to guide parents who aren't sure if their children are old enough to stay home alone. About 15 million children in the United States are home alone after school every day.

State Laws on When a Child is Old Enough to be Alone

State laws vary quite a bit. Some states, including Texas, have not set a minimum age. Others, including Oregon, set a minimum age of 10 years old, while states like Maryland do not allow parents to leave a child under the age of 8 alone at home or in a car. Some states set a minimum age for babysitters as well. If you aren't sure about the law in your state, contact the state department of health or the child services agency for information.

Parents Are Responsible for Supervising Their Children

The law says that you are responsible for supervising and caring for your child. If you decide to leave your child home alone and something happens, such as a fire or an injury, you might get a visit from the police or children's services. In many states, child neglect or lack of supervision is a crime - usually a misdemeanor - so you could even spend time in jail if you're found guilty. To avoid problems, always make sure a child left home alone is prepared for emergencies.

How Do I Decide If My Child Is Ready To Be Alone?

If you're thinking of leaving your child home alone, even for a short time, there are several things to think about. Age is not the only guide. Some immature teenagers need more supervision than mature 10-year-olds. So do children with disabilities. A child should know how to deal with illness or fire, and be able to fix a snack, do homework, and call parents or another adult if help is needed.

Prepare Your Child for Staying Alone

You can prepare your child for staying home alone by talking about problems that might come up. Rehearse various scenarios, such as what to do if a stranger comes to the door or the weather gets bad. Give your child a list of phone numbers to call in an emergency. When your child thinks she's ready, leave her alone for 30 minutes. Try longer periods as the child's confidence grows.

A Family Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding leaving a child home alone is complicated especially when something goes wrong. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.

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