Latch key Children
Compiled by Michelle Young, M.S. Ed August 2011
Parent Resource Center 5905 Forest Pl, Ste 205
Little Rock, AR 72207
Every day thousands of children arrive home from school to an empty house. Every week thousands of parents make decisions to leave children home alone while they go to work, run errands, or for social engagements. It is estimated over 40% of children are left home at some time, though rarely overnight. In more extreme situations, some children spend so much time without their parent(s) that these children are labeled "latch key children", referring to the house or apartment key strung visibly around their neck.
Source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
What to Consider Before Leaving Your Child Home Alone
When deciding whether to leave a child home alone, you will want to consider your child's physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as laws and policies in your State regarding this issue.
Some parents look to the law for help in deciding when it is appropriate to leave a child home alone. According to the National Child Care Information Center, only Illinois and Maryland currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Even in those states other factors, such as concern for a child's well-being and the amount of time the child is left alone, are considered. States that do not have laws may still offer guidelines for parents. In Arkansas, call Division of Children & Family Services at 501.682.8770.
Age and Maturity
There is no agreed-upon age when all children are able to stay home alone safely. Because children mature at different rates, you should not base your decision on age alone.
You may want to evaluate your child's maturity and how he or she has demonstrated responsible behavior in the past. The following questions may help:
When and how a child is left home alone can make a difference to his or her safety and success. You may want to consider the following questions:
In addition to age and maturity, your child will need to master some specific skills before being able to stay home alone safely. In particular, your child needs to know what to do and whom to contact in an emergency situation. Knowledge of basic first aid is also useful. You may want to consider enrolling your child in a safety course such as one offered by the American Red Cross.
The following questions may also help:
Tips for Parents
Once you have determined that your child is ready to stay home alone, the following suggestions may help you to prepare your child and to feel more comfortable about leaving him or her home alone:
Leave the child home alone for a short time while staying close to home. This is a good way to see how he or she will manage.
Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do.
Make sure your child knows what is (and is not) allowed when you are not home. Some experts suggest making a list of chores or other tasks to keep children busy while you are gone.
Call your child while you are away to see how it's going, or have a trusted neighbor or friend check in.
Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you about staying home alone.
Even a mature, responsible child shouldn't be home alone too much. Consider other options, such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations, or churches, to help keep your child busy and involved.
Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway
For Further Reading
Staying Home Alone: A Girl's Guide to Staying Safe and Having Fun
by Dottie Raymer and Lauren Scheuer
by Karin Kasdin and Laura Szabo-Cohen
Websites to Explore
Please visit the Parent Resource Center located at 5905 Forest Place in Little Rock. You will find books, videos, DVDs and other printed material as well as internet access all FREE of CHARGE. Hours are 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.
For more information, please call (501) 666-6833.