Summer is coming. A time to be celebrated by all Minnesotan’s. With Summer comes the issue many parents deal with – can they leave their child(ren) home alone?
Leaving your child(ren) home alone can either be a positive experience that teaches independence and responsibility, or, it can be a negative experience if your child isn’t ready for the challenge. Deciding to leave your child(ren) home alone depends on many different things, such as: the child’s comfort level, independence, responsibility, ability to deal with challenges and more. The decision can be tough when parents are deciding if it is time for their children to be allowed to stay home alone. So, what are parents supposed to do?
As experienced child protection attorneys, we see far too often a situation where children are constantly left home alone with too much responsibility, which leads the County to step in due to what they believe is neglect of the child and remove the children from your home.
There isn’t an easy answer, or strict laws, parents must follow when deciding whether or not to let their child(ren) stay home alone. There are a mere three State’s that put a minimum age requirement of when children may stay home alone. They are Illinois (14 years old), Maryland (8 years old), and Oregon (10 years old). These three State’s are the only ones that set a bare minimum age of when children can be left home alone, and the age discrepancy is huge.
Rather than just looking at age, most States simply ask the parents to balance the combination of age, maturity, circumstances of staying home alone, safety skills and the communicating ability their minor child(ren) have. Another decision to make is when is it appropriate to allow the eldest child to babysit their brother or sister?
Some questions that may help you determine whether it is appropriate to have your child stay home:
• Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him or herself?
• Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
• How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations?
• Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
• How long will your child be left home alone at one time? Will it be during the day, evening, or night? Will the child need to fix a mal?
• How often will the child be expected to care for him or herself?
• Does your family have a safety plan for emergencies? Can your child follow this plan?
• Does your child know his or her full name, address, and phone number?
• Is your eldest child comfortable handling being in charge without abusing it?
• Is your eldest child able to calmly handle any emergency or other problems that arise?
• Does your child know how to use a computer or tablet?
• Does your child know how to use a phone?
TIPS FOR PARENTS:
Have a trial period – Leave your children home alone, but stay close. This is a good way to see how the child(ren) will handle being home alone.
Role play – One night during the week role play situations of what could happen when your child is left home alone. It is just like practicing for a game, come up with possible situations when your child is home alone and talk out how he/she should act.
Establish rules – Make clear what is and is not allowed. Leave a list of chores to get done or set specific parameters on electronics use.
Discuss emergencies – Ask your child what they think an emergency is. Get an understanding of how your child thinks and how they would act in an emergency. Come up with a code word, or game plan, if an emergency does come about.
Check in – Communicate. Call your child. Make sure they can call you. If you are not ready to provide a cell phone for your child there are other forms of communication. Provide a landline, iPad, iPod, or computer so that FaceTime, Messaging, Skype, or other apps are available for communication between parent/child.
Talk about it – It is important you talk with your child on how they feel on being left home alone for a certain amount of time. Talk to them about staying home alone before you leave and when you return. Understanding your child’s concerns is key.
Don’t overdo it – Even if your child is doing great staying home alone, don’t overdo it. Extracurricular activities, community organizations, faith-based organizations are all things that should be considered to keep your child involved with others.
Follow up – Again, talk with your child after they stayed home alone. Ask how it went, if anything came up, or how did your child feel? Also, if your elder son/daughter is watching a younger sibling ask if they were comfortable with that responsibility.
These are just some of the questions that should be discussed with your child stays home alone and tips for parents. For more information go https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/homealone/.
CHILD PROTECTION ATTORNEYS
As experienced child protection attorneys, we can walk you through the process of fighting to get your children back. We will be there with you every step of the way. If you find yourself in a position where you are fighting to get your children back don’t hesitate to contact us.