Staying Home Alone
When is My Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?
One of the most difficult decisions a parent must make is determining when it is safe to leave a child at home alone. Most child care experts and parent educators are reluctant to offer advice for fear of encouraging parents to leave young children unattended. The very real fact, however, is that work is a financial necessity for many parents. Some parents – because of isolation from relatives or lack of appropriate or affordable child care – feel they have no alternative to leaving their children alone while they are at work. They see their choice as feeding their children or paying someone to care for them after school.
According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, some seven million children in the United States return to empty houses after school. Nationwide, that is about one child in four. According to the National PTA, 65% of the mothers of school-age children in the United States work outside the home. Single-parent households now account for 25% of families, and the number is rising. If more women enter the work force, the likelihood is that the number of children left alone to care for themselves on a daily basis will increase.
The real solution to this issue is to ensure that low-cost, readily accessible child care is available to anyone who needs it. Child welfare professionals and advocates across the United States have focused lobbying efforts toward this achievement. Unfortunately, this long-term solution does not offer answers to parents now faced with deciding if it is all right to leave their child alone.
Children have no magic age when staying alone suddenly turns safe. Your child’s readiness for self-care depends on many factors, including the environmental circumstances of the situation; your child’s level of maturity, dependability, and ability to make reasonable decisions: and your child’s relationship to you.