Whether you’ve been toying with the idea because your kids are getting older, or a situation has come up where childcare has fallen through, you might have wondered if it’s legal to let your kids stay home by themselves.
Most of us know that leaving a very young child home alone is considered child neglect, and those who do should expect a visit from Child Protective Services (CPS). On the other end of the spectrum, we also know that by their mid-teens most adolescents are capable and responsible enough to stay at home by themselves.
The gray area lies between—the upper-elementary and middle-school students who are neither extremely young nor old enough to drive.
The law, frankly, doesn’t offer a lot of clear guidance. In fact, only three states provide concrete age minimums for children left home alone (Illinois requires kids to be 14 years old; Maryland 8; and Oregon 10).
Instead, many states laws simply say that neglect, or neglectful supervision, can result in charges or an investigation by CPS. Actually determining what constitutes neglectful behavior is, therefore, often subjective, although a number of states (beyond the previously mentioned trio) do offer guidelines.
Generally, you must consider your child’s maturity, medical needs, and developmental status. At the same time, you should ensure the home environment is safe, making sure that your child cannot access household hazards like toxic cleaning materials, medications, or firearms. And your youngster should be able to determine if he or she should answer the door. Kids also need a way to contact an adult, and should be able to use a phone to do so if the need arises.
Checking off these items can help keep you on the right side of the law. In addition, you should contact your city and state government offices to obtain additional guidance, including any local ordinances that must be followed.