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Latch Key Kids

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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.

 

Legal Guidelines

 

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:

 

  • Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
  • Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
  • Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?

 

Circumstances

 

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:

 

  • How long will your child be left home alone at one time?
  • Will it be during the day, evening, or night?
  • Will the child need to fix a meal?
  • How often will the child be expected to care for him- or herself?
  • How many children are being left home alone?  (Children who seem ready to stay home alone may not necessarily be ready to care for younger siblings.)
  • Is your home safe and free of hazards?
  • How safe is your neighborhood?

 

Safety Skills

 

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:

 

  • Does your family have a safety plan for emergencies?
  • Can your child follow this plan?
  • Does your child know his or her full name, address, and phone number?
  • Does your child know where you are and how to contact you at all times?
  • Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults, in case of emergency?

 

 

 

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:

 

  1. Have a trial period.

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.

 

  1. Role play.

Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do.

 

  1. Establish rules.

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.

 

  1. Check in.

Call your child while you are away to see how it's going, or have a trusted neighbor or friend check in.

 

  1. Talk about it.

Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you about staying home alone.

  1. Don't overdo it.

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

 

Disaster Blaster: A Kid's Guide to Being Home Alone

by Karin Kasdin and Laura Szabo-Cohen

 

 

 

Websites to Explore

 

 

aacap.org

childwelfare.gov

childhelp.org

hhs.org

kidshealth.org

 

latchkey-kids.com

nncc.org

parenting.org

preventchildabuse.org

yourfamilyshealth.com

                                                                                                                           

 

 

 

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.