March 2015 -
The age at which children should be left alone depends on the child’s maturity and experience and parental discretion. The Child and Family Services Act does not specify a specific age when a child may be left alone, however does state that if a child younger than 10 years old is left unsupervised, the onus of establishing that reasonable provisions for supervision and care were made, rests with the parent or guardian.
How can you tell if your child is ready? Firstly, your child should indicate a desire and willingness to stay home alone. Children who are easily frightened or who do not want to stay along are likely not ready for this responsibility. Additionally, children should accept responsibility, be aware of the needs of others, and be able to consider alternatives and make decisions on their own. They should also be able to easily use the telephone, locks, and security alarm system.
What external factors should enter into your decision? What is your neighborhood like? Are their adult’s accessible close by? How long will your children be left alone? You and your child may decide to start with short periods of time, such as 30 minutes to an hour, while you run an errand. If your neighborhood is not safe or if there are no adults nearby to call in the case of emergencies, this is when proper educating your child on the use of your burglar alarm / fire alarm becomes increasingly important.
What you can do:
• Stay in touch. Call children throughout the day to ask how they are and what they are doing. Ask children to check in before they leave the house and to call again when they return.
• Keep kids connected. Post important numbers by the telephone, including parent’s work and cell phone, the doctor’s office, and a neighbor or a nearby relative who can help children quickly if they need it. You may also list information about allergies and medical conditions and make copies for babysitters, caretakers, neighbors — anyone who is periodically responsible for your children.
• Practice what to do in an emergency. Teach children how to dial 911 or press their wireless panic alarm pendant connected to the security system and when to do it. Ask questions like “If someone is trying to get in the house, what should you do?” “If you get hurt, what should you do?” and “If you smell smoke or hear the smoke alarm / fire alarm, what should you do?”