At some point during the school years, parents begin to consider the possibility of self-care for their children. Virginia law is not specific about the age a child may be left home alone, but the decision should never be based on age alone. Remember, leaving your child home alone is an important decision. You are asking your child to take on adult responsibilities and make adult decisions. As a parent, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure the proper arrangement are made for your children.
This information is NOT a substitute for parental responsibilities, but are recommended guidelines designed to better prepare your child, your family, and your home for self-care. For more information on Home Alone Safety and any resources displayed on this page, please contact:
Social Services: 748-1100
Police Department Child Safety Coordinator: 796-7051
Fire and Life Safety Community Programs: 748-1426
10 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE LEAVING YOUR CHILD HOME ALONE
Virginia law is not specific about the age a child may be left alone, but the decision should never be based on age alone. Determining whether a child and your family are ready for self-care is a difficult first step. Here are some things to consider before leaving your child home alone.
- Maturity Level: Is your child "old" or "young" for his/her age level? Children develop at different rates. Look at your child's physical, mental, & emotional maturity. One child may be able to care for him or herself, while another of the same age may need supervision.
- Responsibility Level: Does your child use good judgment; follow directions, and complete homework and chores? Look at your child's past performance in carrying out responsibilities as an indicator.
- Attitude & Feelings: Is your child comfortable staying home alone? Some children feel proud that their parents trust them to be alone, but others feel deserted. How does your child feel about the possibility of self-care?
- Time of Day: Will your child be home alone in the afternoon, evening, or both? Does your child get scared easily when it is dark outside?
- Length of Time: How long will your child be in self-care? Some children are capable of being home alone for longer periods of time than others. Start by leaving your child for a short period of time, talk to them about how it went, and gradually work up to longer periods of time.
- Parental Support: Can you be reached easily at work? How far away are you each day? Does your child feel comfortable coming to you with a problem? There are fewer negative effects of self-care when parents have a strong, caring relationship with their children, and give them consistent direction & support.
- Community Support: Is there a neighbor or another trusted adult your child can go to or call if there's a problem? It is important to have an identified trusted adult, preferably nearby, know that your child is home alone in case you cannot be reached.
- Number of Children: How do your children typically interact? Parents must be very clear as to which child is responsible for supervision and teach them appropriate parenting and disciplinary skills. A child who is ready for self-care may not be ready to supervise siblings.
- Neighborhood Safety: Are there well marked safe places? Is your neighborhood well lit? Can your child safely cross the street? Are there problems with other people in the neighborhood (bullies, crime, or gangs)?
- Home Safety: Are rules & expectations clearly stated & understood? Have responses to home & medical emergencies been taught & practiced? Children should have clear set limits about what appliances they can operate and how to handle situations such as phone calls and strangers at the door.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY
My Name: __________________________________________________________
Directions to Home: __________________________________________________
Mother's Full Name: ____________________________ Work Phone:____________
Father's Full Name: ____________________________ Work Phone:____________
Other Adults to Call for Help:
HOUSE RULES AND RESPONSIBILITIES (Parent-Child Agreement)
As soon as you get home, call _____________________at ______________________to check in.
In case of an emergency I will call 911 FIRST, and get immediate help.
Homework: My plan for homework is that I will: _______________________________________________________________________
Chores: Home chores to be done: _______________________________________________________________________
When they are to be completed:
TV Programs I can watch are:
I may watch TV for:
Computer/Internet Rules: ________________________________________________________________________
Visitors: The ONLY people allowed into the house when my parents are gone are: ________________________________________________________________________
Play Privileges: I can go to the following places once I have called my parent to see if it is O.K.: ________________________________________________________________________
With whom I may play with (names): ____________________________________________
For how long:______________________________________________________________
Other play rules:___________________________________________________________
Telephone: I will limit my calls to ______ minutes so that my parents can call if they need to.
Other telephone rules: _______________________________________________________________________
Care of younger brothers and/or sisters: Responsibilities of child in charge: _______________________________________________________________________
Responsibility of younger children:
Other special agreements: __________________________________________________
Virginia Cooperative Extension Office in Cooperation with the Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Department of Social Services. Prepared by Emily Moser. Adapted from "When Your Child is at Home Alone" by the Virginia Education Association/NEA and "A Parent Guide, How to Help Your Children Learn Self-Care" by a grant through the Administration for Children. Virginia Cooperative Extension programs & employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, veteran status, national origin, disability, or political affiliation. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. If you are a person with a disability & desire assistance or accommodation, please notify the Chesterfield Social Services Department at (804) 748-1100, between the hours of 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM.