Many families will be faced with challenges when it comes to after school care for their elementary aged children. While according to experts there is no definite set age at which a child can be left alone, some states do have laws governing at what age a child may be left alone and all states have laws that govern the endangerment of a child. If a child is left alone without adequate food, without the ability to contact or go to an adult for help, or without the necessary physical and mental skills to be left alone, this could be child endangerment.
Most experts do agree however that children under the age of 10 should not be left without adult supervision and children under the age of 6 should not be left in the care of a sibling. In most of the states where a law is in effect, the average age at which a child may be left is age 12.
In any situation where a child is to be left alone the child must be capable of the following:
- Must be able to contact a reliable adult at all times. This should include having a trusted, stay-at-home neighbor where the child can go in an emergency.
- Must be able to contact their parents at all times and know their parents phone numbers including, work, cell, and pager numbers.
- Must know how to call 911, and know what to do in the following emergencies: fire, severe weather, medical emergency, or break-in.
- Must know how to handle situations such as phone calls from strangers or people coming to the door.
Parents must also make sure they do some of the following before leaving a child alone:
- Be reachable at all times. It is highly recommended that parents have a cell phone and they frequently check in on the child while the child is alone.
- Lay down some house rules for talking on the phone, leaving the house, having friends over, etc.
- Make sure the child understands what to do in any emergency including what to do when someone comes to the door. (Many parents tell children to be quiet to give the illusion that the home is empty when someone comes to the door. In actuality you want your home to appear occupied in order to deter burglaries.)
In any circumstance where a child is left alone the child’s age comes second to the child’s level of maturity and responsibility. No child should ever be left alone for an extended length of time without supervision and activities to help keep them happy, healthy, and out of trouble.