Having to leave a child home alone isn't an easy decision, even with a fully capable child and when your trip to the store is just going to last a few minutes. Depending on where you live, there may be laws in place to help you make that decision and to know where the state draws the line at neglect. In this article, you'll learn about laws for when you can leave a child home alone, including helpful guidelines covering:
Laws for Leaving a Child Home Alone
Only a couple of states have laws that specify the age when a child can be left home alone, including Maryland (age 8) and Illinois (age 14). However, most states have guidelines with the Department of Health and Human Services or other child protective agencies that test a child's ability to be left home alone. Factors may include the child's age and maturity, the overall safety of the surrounding area/circumstances, and arrangements made to secure the child's safety.
Below are general guidelines to follow when considering the age range for leaving a child home alone.
7 & Under - Should not be left alone for any period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and backyards. The determining consideration would be the dangers in the environment and the ability of the caretaker to intervene.
8 to 10 Years - Should not be left alone for more than 1½ hours and only during daylight and early evening hours.
11 to 12 Years - May be left alone for up to 3 hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.
13 to 15 Years - May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.
16 to 17 Years - May be left unsupervised (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).
How to Know If a Child Is Ready to Stay at Home Alone
It is important to note that no two children are alike, and parents must decide on a case-by-case basis what is best for their child. Therefore, in addition to the general guidelines listed above, a parent or caretaker should consider the following before leaving a child at home alone:
Safety Tips for Leaving a Child Home Alone
Finally, if leaving your child at home alone is a necessity -- at least where older children are involved -- you can follow the following guidelines:
For more information on keeping your child safe, browse a collection of parenting tips and articles.
Questions About Leaving your Child Home Alone? Get Legal Help Today
Is your child too young to be at home alone? That question is never an easy one to answer, but the law in your state does provide guidance. Because your child's safety is of paramount importance, speak with a legal expert who can provide you with a clear answer. A family law attorney in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the laws of your state and help you understand how to comply with them.