When is My Child Old Enough to Stay Home Alone?
Parents often ask, "When is my child old enough to stay home alone?" Decisions involving child safety go far beyond the law and require careful, realistic evaluation of each individual child's readiness.
Maryland State Law:
- Maryland Child Protective Services Procedures (SSA95-13) define an "unattended child" as:
- A child under eight left alone or in the care of a person who is not reliable or who is under 13.
- A child aged eight through 12 left alone for longer than brief periods without support systems which should include phone numbers of parents, other family members or neighbors, information about personal safety, and what to do in an emergency. Children in this age group may not be left to care for children under the age of eight.
- A child 12 or over who is left alone for long hours or overnight or with responsibilities beyond capabilities or where there is some special risk factor such as mental retardation or physical handicap that would indicate that the child may be in jeopardy.
- A child who has been abandoned.
- A child of any age who is handicapped and left alone, if the handicapping condition constitutes a special risk factor which indicates that the child is in jeopardy.
- Maryland Family Law, 5-701(p) states that NEGLECT is "the leaving of a child unattended or other failure to give proper care and attention to a child by any parent or other person who has permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for supervision under circumstances that indicate: that the child's health or welfare is harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm."
- The Montgomery County Child Protective Services defines neglect as "the chronic failure of a parent, caretaker, household or family member to provide a child under 18 basic needs of life, such as: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, attention to hygiene, educational opportunity, protection and supervision. Cultural standards which differ from those of most of the community are not necessarily neglect." To make a report call 240-777-4417.
Deciding if Your Child is Ready to Stay Home Alone When the Law Permits:
You know your child and can best determine when she or he is ready to be alone. Factors such as emotional maturity, common sense and self-confidence must be considered. Ask yourself these questions to help you reach your decision:
- Does your child want to stay alone?
- Can your child use the telephone?
- Can your child lock and unlock the door properly?
- Can your child follow directions?
- Does your child know what to do in an emergency?
Prepare Your Child:
Help your child to be ready to stay home alone gradually, beginning with very short periods of time. Make certain that your home is safe. These guidelines will help prepare your child for this important step:
- Post important phone numbers and make sure your child understands when and how to contact parents, reliable neighbors, and emergency aid
- Have your child call a parent at work or a responsible adult to report safe arrival home from school.
- Practice situations that may occur when your child is alone - (What will you do if someone comes to the door? How will you answer the phone if someone calls for your parents? When should you call your parents at work? Etc.)
- Plan time after you return home to listen to your child's account of day's events and deal with problems and questions.
- Be sure you have a Family Emergency Plan in place. See www.redcross.org, click on disaster services, click on prepared, click on family disaster planning.
Other Situations to Consider When Deciding Your Child's Needs
- It's not okay to leave children alone at the library or other public facilities. Staff members have many duties. They are not responsible for child care and your child may not be safe.
- Is your home location safe? Do you know neighbors who can be trusted to provide good advice if called upon by your child?
The Rockville Regional Library at 21 Maryland Avenue maintains the Children's Resource Collection of books, videos and magazines on child development and other topics of interest to parents. Your local library or book stores will also have books which you might find helpful. Recommended are:
- Home-Alone Kids, by Bryan E. Robinson
- Safe Passages, by Hull
- Home Alone Video for Kids, Produced by KidSafety of America
- LOCATE: Child Care - for child care information and referral services. 301-279-1773
- Child Care Subsidy Infolink - information about eligibility for child care subsidies. 240-777-1155
- ChildLink - for information or resources to help with a child from birth to five years of age, such as Early Education, Parenting, Support for Families, Special Needs, Health Care, Mental Health Care, County Resources and more. 240-777-4769
- Montgomery County Schools (MCPS) Call Center - Information about Montgomery County Schools. 301-309-MCPS (6277)
- MCPS Division of Family and Community Partnerships - provides resources and services from the community to strengthen family practices. 301-279-3100
- Montgomery County Health and Human Services Information Line. 240-777-1245
- Montgomery County Child Welfare Services - fact sheets and parent tip sheets are available at www.montgomerycountymd.gov, search for Child Welfare Services or call 240-777-3555
- Some area hospitals community education departments offer workshops for youth in topics such as Home Alone, Babysitting, and Safety
- Children's National Medical Center (Washington D.C.) - 202-884-4500
- Holy Cross Hospital - Community Education Department - 301-754-7160
- Shady Grove Adventist Hospital - 800-542-5096
- Suburban Hospital - 301-896-3939 x 1