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How old is old enough to be home alone?

 
 
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 09:55 am
A couple weeks ago we took in a single mother and 3 kids who'd been kicked out until she can get back on her feet, and I've been struggling with how she will just leave them alone in the house I'm renting where they are staying at not just because it makes me worry about them but because it makes me do so enough to drop work a lot of times and go take care of them.

They are 10 - 13 and I don't know if I am being a Nancy here but I'm not so comfortable with them being alone and going to school (by public transit) alone all the time so we end up taking care of her kids a lot.

Thing is, I recognize that this is pretty borderline here, they aren't babies and are well-behaved and I might just be being my overprotective self here so what do you seasoned parents think? Should I just chill out here and just make sure that they have food (the mother doesn't always leave them with food) and are ok or do children that age always need supervision?

P.S. Another factor that I am worried about how they are taking the whole thing, I know the first night was very traumatic for them and we made an effort to be around them all the time and keep them happy but them seem perfectly fine now. Thing is, I'm not comfortable with what I see as borderline neglect here and am trying to get some more opinions before I do something like talk to the mother about it.
 
Intrepid
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:03 am
@Robert Gentel,
I am not sure what the rules and regulations are in your part of the world. I can only tell you what it is here in my part of Canada.

Laws are not clearly defined and a number of factors come into play. I checked into this very thing a few years ago because of our situation. It seems that there is no problem with a child being left alone for a few hours when they are 12. Even 10 is ok for short periods.

Our 10 year old is on his own for about an hour prior to going to school. It is within walking distance. We set an alarm for him to remind him when it is time to leave. Also, we phone him if we can.

The only problem comes in when someone thinks they have reason to make a report to the authorities if they do not agree with what is, generally, none of their business.

It is, indeed, an awkward situation. The fact that their mother doesn't always leave them with food is troubling.

It sounds as if they are fortunate to have you.

0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:09 am
@Robert Gentel,
For what it's worth, here are guidelines from my state:








Home alone
Contents
What does the law say in Australia?
Can parents leave older children in charge?
Questions to ask yourself
When the time is right
What about leaving children in cars?
Reminders
Resources
Parents at some stage are faced with the dilemma of having to leave their children on their own. "At what age can my children be left at home by themselves?" is a common question asked by many parents.
Given that there is no clear direction in the law you need to use your own judgment, taking into account your own family circumstances and the age and maturity of your children. Parents are expected to make 'reasonable' decisions about their children's safety.

What does the law say in Australia?
There is no actual law that states at what age children can or cannot be left alone, but the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children.
In many cultures it is usual for children to care for brothers and sisters.
While different societies have different customs, in Australia there is a legal obligation for parents to make sure that their children are properly looked after.
Parents are expected to provide food, clothing, a place to live, safety and supervision.
Parents can be charged with an offence if children are left in a dangerous situation and are not fed, clothed or provided with accommodation (Criminal Law Consolidation Act, SA).
In South Australia the Police or Families SA can remove children from situations where their safety is in serious danger and there is no guardian present (Children's Protection Act South Australia).

Can parents leave older children in charge?
When a child or person under the age of 18 years (for example, an older brother, sister or teenage friend) cares for children, the question of negligence or liability could arise. You as a parent may be held responsible for the carer as well as your own children if something goes wrong. For these reasons it may be better that carers are adults. A person who is still legally a child would not be judged against the standards of responsibility expected of adults.
If you do leave your children in the care of an older brother or sister or other young person, you must be sure that they are reliable and mature. Ask yourself: "Could this child cope with an emergency?" e.g. a fire, an accident or a break-in.
If your child is left alone without a "carer" he must be old enough to take action in an emergency and know what to do and where to get help.

Questions to ask yourself
(if you're thinking of leaving your children at home alone).
How safe is our home?
Accidents happen so quickly and most parents know how easily a child can fall into a pool, pull saucepans off the stove, swallow objects or play with matches.
Parents always have to be on the alert, especially with young children.
There is an even greater need to check that dangerous things are out of reach if you're not going to be there.
See the topic Home safety.
Are the ground rules clear?
Every family has its own ground rules.
It is important to be clear about what children can and cannot do and these rules may be different when you are not there or when someone else is minding your children. For example, making a hot drink, turning on the heater, running the bath, using the toaster may seem simple tasks when you are there but may not be allowed when you're away.
Do not assume that your children know the rules. Ask them to tell you what they are.
How long will I be away?
Will it be for a few minutes, an hour, a morning or a full day?
How long you are going to be away will make a difference to what you decide to do.
You need to think about the age of your children, how they feel about being left and most importantly how capable they are.
Babies and toddlers have a different sense of time from adults.
An hour is not long for an adult but to a toddler it is endless and even this short absence could cause distress.
What would happen if you left your sleeping baby at home while you picked up your toddler from kindergarten and you had an accident?
It is not advisable to leave babies or toddlers alone under any circumstances.
Who will be in charge?
It is not fair to expect an older child to take on the full weight of responsibility required to care for younger children.
Their lack of experience may make it difficult for them to find ways of trying to control others.
They may be harsh and might use very different methods from what you use.
If you have no choice then it is important that the child left in charge is capable and responsible and that the other children feel safe.
This child should be able to handle any disagreements or fights and know what to do if the other children "play up", disobey the ground rules, or are ill.
The oldest child is not necessarily the most capable to care.
A child with a disability requires additional care which may be too much for another child to handle.
Am I sure my child knows...?
where I'm going and when I'll be back
how to get in contact with me
how to use the telephone
where emergency numbers are listed (put next to the phone)
his own telephone number and home address (police or fire will need to know where to go)
the telephone numbers of trusted friends, neighbours or relatives
where to find the first aid kit and how to use it
how to use deadlocks
what to do in case of fire
what to do if someone knocks on the door
whether or not he should answer the phone if it rings
how to judge if another child is unwell and help is needed
how to contact the doctor, hospital, police or fire brigade in an emergency (eg how to use 000 number in Australia)
family rules
how many friends are allowed
can they play outside
can they use the swimming pool
can they go to the shop or visit a neighbour
what are the rules about the family pets
what is the special family password that they can say if I phone and they need help, or a code to use if I phone to check on them. For example, 3 rings, hang up and ring again before they pick up the phone?
Write instructions down on paper and keep near the phone. Make sure your home phone number and address, emergency number, and information about how to contact you are all by the phone.

When the time is right
There comes a time when your teenagers start pleading with you to let them stay home alone without someone to look after them. This is a normal part of adolescence when young people are trying to feel more adult and independent.
Once again, the age and maturity of your children will make a difference. For example, you may feel very confident with a 13 year old who is very responsible and quite worried about a 16 year old who may try to take risks.
Letting go of the reins gradually might mean giving your children chances to practise being by themselves and to make mistakes.
Refer to Questions To Ask Yourself above.

What about leaving children in cars
Leaving your child in a car unsupervised at any time is dangerous and not recommended.
In summer the temperature in a car is much hotter than outside and your child can quickly suffer heat exhaustion and become seriously ill.
Children get bored and will explore the car's knobs and buttons which can lead to dangers.
Children can become distressed or may try to struggle free from their seatbelts and become injured.
Children may be in danger of someone trying to steal the car or they may be taken away by someone.

Reminders
Be sure that you have no other choice but to leave your children alone.
Be very careful who cares for your children.
Check the safety of your home.
Test your children on the ground rules.
Place someone in charge who is able to handle any emergency and knows where to get help.
Check that each child feels safe.
Phone regularly to check on your children.
Return home when you said you would.

Resources
South Australia
SA Kidsafe Centre
- telephone: 8161 6318
- website: www.kidsafe.com.au
Children's Protection Act 1993
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/cpa1993229
Other South Australian Consolidated Acts
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/
Information on the internet
The Kidsafe Home Safety Check List
http://www.gtp.com.au/kidsafesa/inewsfiles/inews.20913.1.pdf

Written in partnership
Child and Youth Health - Parenting SA
Related Parent Easy Guide (Parenting SA website - PDF format)



This is a toughie, as it sounds from what you say that the mum is out working?

Bottom line? If it were a client of mine, I would notify the child abuse authorities.

Because: It sounds as though they are alone too much
Sounds like they don't have food all the time.

Thing is, here, parents have cheap care options, like before and after school care and they don't HAVE to do this.

13 is awfully young to have responsibility for two younger kids...too young to do so for any length of time, I would say.




engineer
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:12 am
@Robert Gentel,
12 years old is old enough to babysit here and there are even babysitting classes for children that age. I'm comfortable leaving my seven year old with my twelve year old for short periods of time (a couple of hours) but if it is longer than that, we'll usually make other arrangements. It all depends on your evaluation of the maturity of the children.
Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:12 am
@dlowan,
I dunno...

I was being paid to watch other peoples kids at 12.

I also think that she knows that you are watching, too.

good luck Rob...
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:25 am
@dlowan,
dlowan wrote:
Bottom line? If it were a client of mine, I would notify the child abuse authorities.

Because: It sounds as though they are alone too much
Sounds like they don't have food all the time.


Yeah? I am not close to there myself, they always have food, it's just that the mother sometimes simply assumes that it will be us that takes care of them. I don't think she would do that otherwise.

Quote:
Thing is, here, parents have cheap care options, like before and after school care and they don't HAVE to do this.


Yeah, the toughest part of all this is that this mother legitimately has few options, she's going to have a hard time just getting a roof over their heads next.

Quote:
13 is awfully young to have responsibility for two younger kids...too young to do so for any length of time, I would say.


To put in perspective, she works and occasionally then goes out. They are usually alone for a couple of hours at most before we'll make a point to go over.

She shows up daily and checks in, and my take is that this isn't so much neglect and child abuse so much as just not being as responsible and attentive a parent as she can be (and here I am really only talking about how she'll go out, not work, I don't think that can be helped. She goes out a couple times a week though and we don't anymore, because I want someone to be around the kids).
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:26 am
In Nevada the age to be left alone for self care is 10 for a mentally healthy child, and 12 if that child is caring for a non-infant.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:29 am
@engineer,
engineer wrote:
12 years old is old enough to babysit here and there are even babysitting classes for children that age. I'm comfortable leaving my seven year old with my twelve year old for short periods of time (a couple of hours) but if it is longer than that, we'll usually make other arrangements. It all depends on your evaluation of the maturity of the children.


See, I think I should feel this way, but it isn't my nature to. How about taking the bus (not school bus) downtown? You think that's ok for the 13-year old to be responsible for? Initially, the mother didn't want that either but has to work.

I think it's also something I should be ok with but am not.
aidan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:33 am
In terms of chronological age, I'd have no issue with leaving three children from 10-13 home with each other. I think ten is the lower limit for leaving a mature, responsible child of normal intelligence and functioning home alone and twelve or thirteen is the lower limit in which I'd leave a child to babysit any other child.

But if I were going to make this decision for myself, I'd be asking myself the following questions:
1) how well do the children get along? If the older one is bossy and either of the younger ones are rebellious, then I'd not feel comfortable leaving the older one in charge of the younger ones. If they got along well and had a cooperative relationship with each other, I'd feel fine leaving a thirteen year old in charge of the other two- or even a baby. I was babysitting and getting paid for taking care of a two year old and an infant from the time I was twelve. So were most of the girls in my neighborhood (getting paid to babysit).
2)Is the neighborhood safe? Can you trust the children not to open the door to a stranger? Is there an adult who lives nearby who they would feel comfortable asking for help if they needed it?
I never left my daughter home by herself even after she was ten because she was so compliant with adults that I could picture her opening the door to anyone who knocked and told her to open the door even if she knew she shouldn't. She wouldn't want to defy an adult.

I think I finally left her alone at the age of fifteen or something.

You can put loose guidelines in place based on how most children function at certain ages- but every kid is different. Like I said, my daughter has perfectly normal functioning intelligence and common sense - but she was too trusting.

So what I'm saying is that I'd think that three kids 10-13 could be left alone, but I'd have to know all these things about them before I could decide.

I do think an important factor is if there are people around whom you know they could ask for help if they needed it.
0 Replies
 
Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:34 am
@Robert Gentel,
I knew about transfers and the bus schedule at that age. (it was the only way to go where I could not bike...)

are the kids intelligent and responsible?
0 Replies
 
dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:39 am
just responding re my experience in child protection, it's a judgment call as to the maturity/circumstances/environment of the children.
Intrepid
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 10:46 am
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:


She shows up daily and checks in, and my take is that this isn't so much neglect and child abuse so much as just not being as responsible and attentive a parent as she can be (and here I am really only talking about how she'll go out, not work, I don't think that can be helped. She goes out a couple times a week though and we don't anymore, because I want someone to be around the kids).


Shows up daily and checks in? How long are the children alone?

As attentive as she can be or should be?

Why should she be able to go out and you no longer can (or choose to). You are right to have a concern.
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 11:10 am
Thanks all, I just drove them to the bus stop and felt stupid, it was 3 blocks away and perfectly safe.

I think I just need to chill out about them being alone for a couple of hours here and there and this thread gave me the positive confirmation to feel better about that.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 11:18 am
@Intrepid,
Intrepid wrote:
Shows up daily and checks in? How long are the children alone?


Those were separate, she works and occasionally goes out after work. She also checks in (by phone) to see if we are taking care of her kids.

They are alone a couple hours before or after school sometimes but sometimes when we don't sleep at the house they are staying at she might not come home till late, and those are the kinds of situations that bother me more.

Quote:
As attentive as she can be or should be?


Dunno man, it's pretty complicated for her too.

Quote:
Why should she be able to go out and you no longer can (or choose to). You are right to have a concern.


Yeah it's a bit rude or something, but that's fine for now. She will be moving out in a month or so and I'm just trying to feel fine about not playing the role of automatic babysitter when she does. I feel better about leaving them alone now (and I'm only about 5 miles away) and this will be less of an annoyance now.

If anything happens to the kids, I'll just say the internet said it was ok. ;-)
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 11:29 am
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:

I think it's also something I should be ok with but am not.

Don't worry too much about not being ok with it. Without a lot of experience, it's hard to realize how capable those small humans are. While in Japan, I routinely saw tweens traveling the buses and local subway, but I'd have to work up to having my children do it. When I was 10, I was riding my bike several miles to play basketball, at thirteen I was all over suburban New Orleans, something I think would cause heart attacks in a lot of people. Part of my encouraging my children to branch out is my memory of what I did when I was their ages. How much freedom did you have at 10 or 12? That might shape how much you think these children are capable of.
Intrepid
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 12:22 pm
@Robert Gentel,
I doubt that your concern will lessen when she moves out.

Good on ya for caring.

Back when many of us were 10 and 12 years old, it was a different world. A different time. Unfortunately we, as adults and parents, have to be concerned where our parents did not.
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 12:44 pm
My guess is 12 (at least in the legal sense). Reason I say that is you can deduct child care expenses on your taxes for children under 12. So 12 must be the “magic” age. Not sure, however, if having a 12 year old in the house then warrants this as some one caring for another child. Children around the age of 13 babysit.

As far as the bus – I’d guess it depends on how safe it is to take public transportation in your area. I can’t remember when I started taking the bus in my town alone or with friends – but I’d venture to guess it was about 12 or 13.

I used to care for my baby brother when I was 12 – granted my mom was in the house at the time. I was mature for my age and responsible. My mom used to work a night shift so when I got home from school, I would care for my baby brother so she could sleep before heading off to work. My dad would come home from work about dinner time. So we were not alone in the house.

The funny thing is – I have an 11 year old. And I wouldn’t let her take public transportation. I think I am more protective than my parents were. I have left her and her sister who is 7, alone for very short periods of time – like to run down to Dunkin Donuts and get my coffee. Nothing more than 15 minutes. Although I have allowed my older daughter with her teammates who are a year or two older take a walk together at night. Rules are to stay together – my daughter is not a risk taker and seems to make good choices. It is a way to get them a little independence at a time.
0 Replies
 
Pemerson
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 01:36 pm
@Robert Gentel,
You seem to be a concerned and caring person when it comes to these children, but aren't you also feeling awfully responsible? You started something, now it's becoming your "job." That is how I would feel. Like, if I didn't take care of them I would feel guilty, or worry worry worry. What a situation. But, you must be getting attached to these kids. I would be.

For what it's worth I don't recall leaving my two boys alone until the oldest was 12, the other 10, but that would be in the evening. I always had a babysitter there after school until I arrived from work until they were about 15 & 13. Gads, they and their friends would have torn the house down. The lady across the street worked full time and her son practically lived at our house. Didn't mind that at all.

But, those were different times. I would probably be doing the same as you.
I also say, good for you, helping somebody.
0 Replies
 
OmSigDAVID
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 02:11 pm
@dyslexia,
dyslexia wrote:
just responding re my experience in child protection,
it's a judgment call as to the maturity/circumstances/environment of the children.
I agree with that; it depends on the kids.

When I was 8, I left NY and went to Arizona.
My parents became involved in operating some furniture stores that we purchased.
Thay got home usually between around 8 to 10 PM., except on Sundays.
I was alone until thay got home; I had no problems.
That was after school, most of the year, and all the time except Sundays,
when the stores were closed, during June, July n August.
I just hung around at home, reading or listening to the radio,
or occasionally visited friends in the naborhood
or went to the movies n restaurants; took a cab or a bus.
I never ran low on cash nor food. This continued for 5 years, until we returned to NY.

The worst problem that I ever had was when I locked myself out
and had to break a window to get in again.

On the other hand, some years ago, I was present when a young lady
I was seeing agreed on the fone to be away for a weekend.
Her 9 year old son called out to her, in a loud voice:
"Who 's going to take care of ME !??"

I was silently surprized that he did not consider himself able to do it independently.

I imagine that these children shoud be OK, with the older ones
watching the others, if thay are of conservative demeanor.





David
Intrepid
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2010 02:17 pm
@OmSigDAVID,
You forgot to mention the gun you had at 8 to take care of yourself.
0 Replies
 
 

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