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Leaving Kids Home Alone

During the summer and other holidays we often hear complaints from parents about the other parent leaving children home alone. The legal issue is that failure to provide adequate supervision is considered neglect. If firearms are left unattended additional criminal charges can also be filed against the parent.

Only four states have legal age restrictions when children can be left alone: Illinois, age 14, Oregon, age 10, and Maryland and North Carolina, age 8. There are 11 other states that provide recommendations ranging from ages 8 to 12.

Missouri statutes do not provide a legal age restriction however in Missouri the Children’s Division Abuse/Neglect hotline takes reports of children age 8 and under being left alone with a face to face safety check held within 3 hours. This is an obvious clue that age 8 and under is inappropriate for kids to be home by themselves.

Beyond that courts look at several factors in determining neglect with a child being left home alone. Those factors include maturity level of the child, skills at meeting basic needs and the child’s ability to keep themselves safe.

What follows is a checklist you can use in determining whether your child is mature enough to handle periods of time home alone:

  1. Does your child know how to fix themselves a snack or meal? Would he or she remember to turn off the stove or water faucet?
  2. Does your child know what to do if the lights go out or they come home and find a window or door broken?
  3. Can the child recognize a situation where help is needed and call 911? Being able to recognize emergencies is a key factor to consider.
  4. If the child had to call 911 could the child give his or her address, directions to the home, know their parent’s full names, and their parent’s work phone numbers?
  5. Does the child know what to do if someone comes to the door?
  6. Who would the child say is allowed in the home if the parents are not home? Does the child know how to handle strangers on the phone or at the door?
  7. Who would the child call if he or she could not reach a parent? What is the phone number?
  8. Does the child know a neighbor to call in the event of an emergency?
  9. The child can comfortably explain how to handle basic first aid such as cuts, burns, nosebleeds, poisonings, bites, choking and eye injuries.
  10. The child knows where first aid supplies are kept.
  11. The child knows where to go in the event of a tornado or fire and what to do.
  12. The child can think of a situation where he or she had to figure out and decide the right thing to do without asking a parent or other adult.
  13. The child feels safe when alone, is not afraid of the dark and is not anxious about staying home alone.
  14. If multiple children are involved they get along well with each other and fighting is at a tolerable level.