Currently, there are only three states that have a minimum age requirement, ranging from age 8 to 14, for leaving a child home alone.
The majority of states do not have a specific age of when it is legal to leave a child home alone. Rather, the child’s age and maturity level, the safety of the surrounding area/circumstances, and the steps taken to ensure the child’s safety are all taken into consideration.
Are there General Guidelines for When You Can Leave Your Child Alone?
The following are general guidelines that child protective agencies may consider in determining when it is legal, or illegal, to leave a child home alone. Before making the decision to leave your child alone, be sure to check your own state’s laws first.
Age range guidelines:
- Age 7 and Under: Children ages seven and under should never be left alone for any length of time. This includes leaving them unattended in the backyard, in cars, on playgrounds,
- Age 8 to 10: Do not leave children in this age range alone for more than 11/2 hours, and when they are alone, it should only be during daylight and early evening hours.
- Age 11 to 12: Children between ages 11 and 12 may be left alone for up to 3 hours. They should not be given responsibilities that are more appropriately suited for an adult, and they should not be left alone late at night.
- Age 13 to 15: Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 may be left alone, but they should not home alone overnight.
- Age 16 to 17: Teens ages 16 to 17 may be left unsupervised, and in some instances, for up to two days.
Every situation is different, and parents must carefully weigh the age and maturity of their child, how long the child will be left alone, the safety of the child’s surroundings, and other factors that may contribute to the decision on whether a child should be left alone.
What Does State Law Say About Leaving a Child Home Alone?
Most states do not have set laws on when it is legal to leave a child home alone. Be sure to refer to your state’s laws before making the decision to leave your child unsupervised.
If your state is part of the majority that do not outline the legalities of leaving children alone, you should be aware that courts weigh the following:
- The child’s maturity level;
- The safety of the child and his or her surroundings;
- How long the child was left alone; and
- The parents’ concern for the child’s overall welfare, and the steps taken to ensure their safety and wellbeing
What are the Consequences for Leaving Your Child Home Alone?
If a parent has been reported for leaving their child unattended, it is highly likely that an agency such as Child Protective Services (CPS) will investigate the incident through interviews with the parent, child, neighbors, and other witnesses.
If CPS finds that the parent was endangering the child by leaving him or her alone, the child will likely be removed from the home and placed with relatives or in foster care. Criminal charges for the parent, such as child neglect, may follow.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
An experienced family law attorney can answer any questions regarding your child and when it is legal to leave him or her alone. You can also contact Child Protective Services in your state. If you are facing an investigation by CPS, a local lawyer can advise you of your rights, and represent your best interests in court.