Although there is no set age at which a child can be left home alone, there are guidelines parents can use to help determine if their child is physically, mentally and emotionally ready for this type of independence. Although most states do not have laws about leaving children home alone, some state agencies have rules on child supervision. Children who are independent, responsible and intelligent often can be left alone at a much earlier age than those who are not as mature.
As the New York State Office of Child & Family Services points out, some children are ready to be left alone as early as 12 or 13 years of age, while some teenagers are still too immature or irresponsible to stay home without supervision. Another consideration is the amount of time a child will be alone and whether they will have to supervise another child. Some children can be left alone only an hour or two while others of the same age may be able to take care of themselves all day.
There is no set age at which a child can safely be left alone because children, even those of the same age, mature at different rates. Parents should consider whether their children are physically and mentally able to care for themselves, whether they normally obey rules and are capable of making good decisions and whether they are comfortable with the idea of staying home alone. Parents also must determine the length of time a child will be alone and the safety of their home and neighborhood.
Parents can help ensure their children are able to stay home alone by having a safety plan. Your local Red Cross typically will offer basic safety and first aid classes. In addition, an emergency plan should be in place in the home. The child should be familiar with this plan and able to follow it. The Child Welfare Information Gateway recommends acting out situations to help a child learn how to handle them. Also, leave children alone for short trial periods at first to see how well they handle the responsibility.
Although states may not have laws that say when a child is old enough to be left alone, there may be rules that require state agencies to investigate any reports of underage children left alone because of neglect. Child Protective Services in Arizona may investigate a report of any child under the age of 6 or a child of any age with a physical, mental or emotional handicap that is left alone for any period of time. The office also may investigate a situation where a child between the ages of 6 and 9 is left alone for more than three hours. The agency will step in when children of any age are left alone and it is not clear when the parent is expected to return.
Children who are left alone should know their address and phone number, their parents' whereabouts and how to contact them and contact information for trusted neighbors or nearby adult family members. They also should know how and when to dial 9-1-1.