When Are My Kids Ready to Stay Home By Themselves?
As parents, we face tough decisions related to our children on a daily basis. Should we send them to school with that sniffle? Is that movie appropriate for them? Are they ready to stay home without a parent or babysitter? When children can handle being home alone is a serious question, one where many parents disagree. However, the answer you choose can have consequences. If you leave your children home alone too young and for too long, you may end up the subject of a child protective services investigation or face criminal charges for neglect. Before heading out without a babysitter, consider the law and child service’s recommendations for when your children are ready for this responsibility.
The Law and Common Sense
Many states have determined by law a minimum age for when children are ready to be left alone. Most states says children between the ages of 10 and 12 are ready to be home by themselves for a reasonable amount of time. Virginia law does not give a specific age at which children can stay home without a parent or sitter. However, that does not mean it is appropriate to leave children of any age without care. It simply means parents must use their discretion in determining when their children are ready to stay home without an adult and for how long.
While Virginia law does provide for when children should or should not be left home alone, Fairfax County and social services have developed guidelines parents can use to determine when the time is right to forgo some child care.
- It is never appropriate to leave children under the age of 7 home alone or at playgrounds by themselves. Children between 8 and 10 years old may be able to stay by themselves for up to an hour and a half during the day or early evening.
- Children who are 11 or 12 years old are generally capable of looking after themselves for up to 3 hours during the day and evening.
- Thirteen to 15-year-olds can be unsupervised for longer periods of time, such as during a parent’s work day, but not overnight.
- Once adolescents reach 16 years old, they are usually capable of being left unsupervised day and night, up to two consecutive nights.
These are merely guidelines. Every parent must consider their own children’s maturity, level of responsibility and emotional, medical, and behavioral health. A 10-year-old may be calm and responsible for his age and able to stay home alone for a few hours while a 13-year-old who has a behavioral issue should not go unsupervised for more than an hour.
Legal Consequences of Leaving Your Children Home Alone Too Young
While most parents know their children best and can make an appropriate decision as to when they can be home alone, there are instances when children are left home at too young of an age for too long. When this occurs, the law will become involved. If a parent is accused of leaving a young child alone without supervision for too long, there may be a social services investigation or criminal charges of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Contact a Leesburg Family Law Attorney for Help
The experienced Leesburg legal team of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC is well-versed in a variety of family and criminal law matters, particularly where these issues intersect. If you are facing an investigation or criminal charges related to leaving your children home alone, do not hesitate to call us for help at 703-997-4982.