It's a crazy, busy world. Mom works, Dad works and the kids have after-school obligations. With everything you have to do, it isn't always convenient -- or even affordable -- to schedule someone to look after the children. Letting your child be alone for a short period of time might be an option, depending on her age and level of maturity. But does the state of Washington have a law that sets a minimum age a child has to be to be left alone?
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Washington State Guidelines
Some states do have set laws about how young a child can be to stay home on her own and these vary greatly. For example, the minimum age in Illinois is 14 but in Maryland it's 8. Washington state doesn't have any laws regarding this issue, says Latchkey-Kids.com. However, the state does not recommend letting a child younger than 10 stay home alone, says Child Care Resources.
Most Experts Agree
Though the state of Washington sets the guideline at age 10, the National SAFEKIDS Campaign says no child under the age of 12 should be left at home alone. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services says that as long as your 12-year old is mature and dependable, she can be left alone for a few hours but at 12 she shouldn't be responsible for other children. She also shouldn't be left alone overnight.
Being 12 isn't the only safety guideline for leaving a child alone. She must also possess emotional maturity and feel safe being left on her own. Does your child follow instructions? Can you count on her to tell you the truth? Is she confident about being left alone? Does she remain calm in unexpected circumstances? Does she know how to dial 911 and does she know her full name, address and phone number? Is she level-headed? Child Care Resources says these are hallmark traits a child must possess in order to stay home on her own.
Create a Plan
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recommends creating a safety plan for your child prior to leaving her at home. She must be able to get in touch with you, and she needs to know where you'll be and when to expect your return. Rehearse a scenario in which something goes wrong and the police must be contacted. Make sure she knows how to call the police, tell them where she is and explain the situation. Tell her to keep the doors and windows locked while you're gone and not to permit anyone in the home unless that person is on a pre-approved list of adults she knows and trusts. You may also want to check with the National Sex Offender Registry to see if there are any known sex offenders in your neighborhood.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: Home Alone
- Latchkey-Kids.com: Legal Age Restrictions for Latchkey Kids
- National Center for Missing or Exploited Children: Know the Rules...for Children Who are Home Alone
- Child Care Resources: School Age Children Home Alone?
- Family Watchdog: National Sex Offender Registry