Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A. | 7/2/2005 1:57:58 AM
Summer is a time when many parents choose to leave children home rather than making other child-care arrangements.
This leads to the situation of kids caring for kids – or kids caring for themselves.
"With so many children staying home alone in the summertime, it raises a very obvious question, ‘At what age can a child be left home alone?’" LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe comments. "Sadly, there is no one answer to that question."
Gioe said individual states have different rules regarding this issue. In Louisiana, families can contact the state Department of Social Service’s Office of Community Services for guidelines pertaining to leaving children alone.
But while there is no set law about leaving children alone, child development experts have come up with some guidelines for parents who are contemplating leaving their children home alone or are already leaving their children home alone.
"Most child development experts agree that children should be at least 12 years of age before they are left alone," Gioe said. "Even then, the child’s maturity level must be seriously considered. Is he or she nervous about being left alone, and can he or she think and plan, use good judgment and make good decisions?"
Another issue families must consider is the safety of the child, according to Gioe, who says parents should consider such issues as whether the household is safe, whether it’s in a safe neighborhood and whether there are neighbors or relatives the children can depend on if they get into compromising positions.
"Children must have constant access to household keys and emergency numbers where someone can always be reached," Gioe stressed. "Families should also establish house rules regarding answering the door and phone. And children certainly need to know how and when to call 911 and how to administer basic first aid."
Most experts suggest that parents try leaving children home alone for very short periods at first. As time passes, families can stay gone a little longer as long if the children are confident and are able to make it through the day without any major issues.
"If families have any doubts about the ability of their children to stay home alone, experts suggest that you contact your local recreation centers or after-school programs for different arrangements," Gioe said.
The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.