For parents, leaving a child home alone can be a difficult decision. However, some situations arise where it can become necessary. Therefore, if you are planning to leave your child home alone you need to ensure that it is legal to do so. There are guidelines determined by each state to help avoid any safety concerns once leaving your child home alone. 

States vary in determining what age is the child allowed to be left alone at home. There is a difference between neglect and permissiveness as a parent deciding to leave the child home alone. Here are some considerations to take into account before making that decision:

  • The safety tips for leaving the child home alone;
  • What is the right age to leave the child at home and;
  • Whether the child capable of being left home alone.

What Guidelines Should Be Considered to Leave the Child Home Alone?

Although some states specify an age appropriate for legally leaving the child home alone. Most states do not expressly state an age. Therefore, states in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services have formulated some guidelines to assist parents who are making this decision:

  • Ages 7 and under: Cannot be left alone at home during any period of the time. This includes leaving them unattended in the cars, backyards and playgrounds. This is a vulnerable age and their would be a high risk to their safety;
  • Ages 8 to 10: are permitted to be home alone only during daylight and early morning hours for no later than 1 and ½ hours;
  • Ages 11 to 12: can be left alone during the day for up to 3 hours but not late at night;
  • Ages 13 to 15: are permitted to be left unsupervised, but not overnight and;
  • Ages 16 to 17: can be left unsupervised for up to 2 days. 

Is my Child Capable of Being Home Alone?

All children are unique and deal with situations differently. Some show more maturity than others do. For parents trying to make a decision of leaving their child home alone, it is important to determine if your child is ready. Furthermore, it may be useful to do a practice run before actually leaving your child home alone. Later, you and the child can discuss the results of the practice run and determine what needs to be accomplished for the actual event. 

Here are some indicators that can guide in that decision making process: 

  • The age and maturity level of the child; 
  • The duration of the time alone spent at home;
  • Whether the child follows instructions and works independently;
  • The age and number of children being left home alone; 
  • The safety of the surrounding neighborhood;
  • Whether the child feel safes staying home alone and;
  • Whether the neighbors check in with children. 

What Safety Measures Should be Taken Into Account?

If you do make the decision of leaving your child home alone, you should consider doing these safety measures to ensure the protection of your child: 

  • Storing the emergency contact information in an easy accessible way; 
  • Teaching the child the basics of first aid;
  • Child should know their full name, home address and a phone number;  
  • Child needs to be able to contact you at all times; 
  • Making sure the child can use a phone to communicate or laptop; 
  • Teaching the child how to work the locks; 
  • Designating a “safe house” if the child does not feel safe; 
  • Considering enrolling them in a class that teaches about home safety and being home alone and; 
  • Checking any possible hazards in the home. 

What Are the Consequences for Leaving the Child at Home Alone Illegally?

Most courts do not intervene in this area unless it is harming the child. Although parenting your child is a fundamental right, courts want to ensure the safety and well being of the child. Therefore, if there is a possible indication of parental neglect, courts will investigate this further. 

It is crucial to be familiar with your state’s guidelines for leaving your child home alone. Although, you may think that they are ready it is still not legal to leave them alone without adult supervision. Each state varies on the consequences but most implement fines and or jail time. It is a serious offense and cannot be overlooked. 

Should I Seek a Lawyer for Help?

Since there are no uniform laws for when it is legal to leave a child home alone. Parents should do research in their own state’s guidelines for leaving a child home alone. Each state has their own rules and regulations in terms of what is considered a safe age to leave the child home alone. However, if you are struggling with the decision and need additional guidance, seeking out a family lawyer will be beneficial in making an informed and legally accurate decision.