Generally, children must live with their parents or guardians until they are able to function in society on their own. Therefore, they must always also be under the supervision of their parents or guardians, especially at home. However, when is the perfect time to leave a child alone in the house? State leaders around the country have been debating this topic for years, and many still do not have steady ground to base this decision on. For the time being, here are the laws surrounding leaving children alone at home around the country.
Age and Maturity of the Child
One concept that all states agree with is that children should be a certain age before they can stay at home alone. The age of the child solely depends on each region and its standards. When it comes to the child's age, eight different ranges are acceptable for each state. These ranges are the ones that states decided are the most acceptable age to start with. That way, as the child gets older, they can begin to adapt to the change and govern themselves accordingly. The ranges and the number of states that abide by these ages are:
- 14 Years Old: Illinois
- 12 Years Old: Mississippi, Delaware, and Colorado
- 11 Years Old: Michigan
- 10 Years Old: Washington, Tennessee, Oregon, and New Mexico
- 9 Years Old: North Dakota
- 8 Years Old: North Carolina, Maryland, and Georgia
- 6 Years Old: Kansas
- No Age: 39 states
Also, the child's maturity level is taken into consideration with being home alone. To know how mature a child is, it's crucial to analyze these aspects about them:
- Whether the child can care for themselves.
- Whether the child can follow the rules and make wise decisions.
- How the child can respond to urgent situations.
- How the child feels about being alone in the house.
In some instances, it is appropriate for young children to stay home alone. Not only are these reasons valid, but they are also necessary for most of the time. Sometimes, it can also mean the difference between the child's safety in the long run. Every child is different. Therefore, before parents can leave them in the house alone, they must prep their children for certain circumstances that could occur. This action requires coaching the children by asking certain questions and teaching them specific information, like:
- Teaching the children any emergency contact information.
- Scheduling times to call the children while they are at home.
- Showing the children how to use locks and keep them locked.
- Keeping dangerous objects out of the children's reach.
In all states, there is some consequence for unlawfully leaving a child alone. Each state follows the same specific punishments for these parents, but they also may alter some to satisfy the state rules. If it is suspected that a child is unlawfully left alone at home, Child Protective Services (CPS) will begin an investigation to determine the safety of the child in the household. If the investigation shows that the child was in danger while alone, then they will be taken into state custody. The parent will also have the potential to be charged with child endangerment or child abandonment, especially if the child is harmed while home alone.