Recently, Woodinville Patch . The column sparked a conversation about what age is appropriate for leaving a child alone and what is that law.
A couple of community members correctly pointed out that here is no law in Washington State regarding how old a child must be to be left home alone. In fact there are only two states in the Union which have laws regulating the age a child needs to be to be left home alone; Maryland and Illinois.
“Although there here is no law regarding the age at which children may stay home alone or baby-sit, it is recommended that you take into consideration the skills and maturity of the child,” wrote Sherry Hill, communications director for Children’s Administrations, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services in an email to Patch. “Some children mature sooner than other children. When you decide a child is able to stay home alone or baby-sit, begin with short periods of time and slowly lengthen the time as you become more confident in the child’s competence.”
Most government agencies agree that leaving a 12-year-old alone at home for a couple of hours is acceptable as long as the child understands how to get help in an emergency. However, those same experts state that child should not be responsible for other children.
Hill added that a child left home alone is still the responsibility of the parents and if that child is hurt, parents or guardians may be prosecuted for child abuse and neglect according to Washington State regulation WAC 388-15-009.
“The decision to leave your child home alone is a very personal decision that needs to be made based on your feelings and experience with your child,” Hill wrote. Washington State does not have any laws or rules that say at what age a child can be left home alone. In general, children under 10 should not be left on their own, and babies and younger children should not be left alone even for a few minutes”.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you leave your child home alone, according to Hill:
- Does your child feel at all frightened or apprehensive about staying home alone?
- Does your child follow your instructions and your rules?
- Can you count on your child to tell you the truth?
- Can your child be counted on to stay clearheaded in an unexpected or emergency situation?
- Can you child calmly dial 911, give their full name (and yours), street address and phone number, and explain the situation?
- You might feel most comfortable starting out leaving your child alone for short periods of time. Go slowly and make sure that you and your child are comfortable with the situation.