Now more than ever, modern parents find themselves wondering whether it is okay to leave children home alone. Many parents across the state and nation have found themselves in the position of being called back to work before their children are called back to school. Other parents simply need a mental health break apart from their kiddos from time to time.
Whether you are contemplating a brief jaunt out or a daily absence from the home of many hours, what to do with your children is always an issue. Daycare and babysitter rates are expensive and increasing all the time. It’s unrealistic, if not impossible, to continuously rely on family members to provide childcare. It makes sense that many parents eagerly ask, what age can my child start staying home alone?
It may be surprising how unclear the answer to this question is for parents. Different states have different laws and guidelines in response to the question. The decisions for when to begin leaving your child home alone, how often, and for how long, are all extremely important. Not only are childcare mistakes irresponsible and potentially dangerous, but such actions can also actually have legal ramifications. Guilty verdicts of neglectful supervision may result in lawsuits, fines, or even jail time.
Our guide below is designed to help avoid such disasters. We have resources for determining a child’s readiness to be home alone, safety tips, and resources.
The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recommends children under 12 years old not be left at home alone. However, Texas law does not explicitly state how old a child must be to stay at home alone. Instead, the state offers recommendations to parents in the form of guidelines. These guidelines encourage you to really think about the maturity and preparedness of your child to handle the freedom that comes with time at home alone.
Age limits for allowing children to stay at home alone vary by state within the United States. Only 13 states specify a legal age at which children can be left alone at home. The remaining 37 states, such as Texas, offer guidelines for leaving children at home alone and review circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
The age minimums for leaving children at home alone for every state in the United States are:
The guidelines that have been published by reputable child development experts about readiness for time home alone share important basic principles. These basics include recommendations to consider your child’s preparedness in:
Have you taught your child where to go in the home or where to leave the home in an emergency? Do they know where things such as first aid supplies are in the home? Do they have access to make a phone call to reach you and/or emergency services?
Does your child make good decisions and possess the ability to obey rules?
Is your child able to respond appropriately to unfamiliar or stressful situations?
Is your child comfortable with the idea of being left home alone? Are they fearful of the idea?
In addition to these general questions, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has a list of questions to assess your child’s readiness. These guidelines stand in place of a specific age of supervision law in the state:
Before leaving your child behind at home, make sure to plan for their safety, and talk to them about what to do in various situations that may come up while they are alone. It is a good idea to ask questions, give “what if” scenarios, and even role play with them to help develop critical thinking skills and build their confidence in confronting situations that arise while they are on their own.
A few ideas for safety and preparedness might include below, and more tips are here:
Find Your Local Child Welfare Agency for additional resources specific to your community throughout all fifty states.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (Texas Branch of Child Protective Services) has a set of Child Supervision Guidelines Specific to Texas.
There are alternatives to time home alone for many children. Ask friends and neighbors or search online for local groups affiliated with schools, YMCA’s, community centers, faith-based organizations, and more that offer daytime or afterschool programs where kids have a place to go. Some neighborhoods and friend groups create babysitter pools to share the responsibility of looking after kids throughout the week. Planning and preparation are rarely easy in parent life, but resources exist to help, sometimes even free or low-cost ones.
Inadequate supervision can be a form of neglect, referred to in Texas law as “Neglectful Supervision.” According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Neglectful Supervision means:
Placing a child in or failing to remove a child from a situation that a reasonable person would realize requires judgment or actions beyond the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, or mental abilities and that results in bodily injury or substantial risk of immediate harm to the child. (source: TXDFPS)
Failing to provide adequate supervision of a child can result in lawsuits, fines, or even jail time. A neglectful supervision charge can impact you and your family life for years.
In addition to legal implications, alone time can also have implications for your child’s development. Too much alone time for children can cause harm. Socialization, interaction and relationship building are important to social development. And structure, predictability, reliability of parents, and the home environment is critical to healthy emotional and mental development in children.
Safety and risk of injury is another concern when kids are left on their own. Lack of adult supervision is a factor in over 40% of injury deaths in US children each year. Some of the most common injuries include burns, falls, and cuts & scrapes when kids are left to their own devices. Some of these run-of-the-mill bruised knees and stubbed toes are normal, but some injuries, particularly to the head or neck, can have very serious lifelong consequences.
Before leaving your kids home alone, you should be confident that they have developed skills around risk-taking and problem-solving. Set clear boundaries, such as no trampoline time or no cooking on the stove while home alone. With clear boundaries, explanations of what to do if they get hurt, and readily available access to you and emergency contact, your kids will be set up for success when home alone.
Home isn’t the only place that presents a danger to unsupervised children. Leaving kids alone in the car is illegal and can have extremely serious consequences. Per the Texas Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 22, Section 10, it is an offense to intentionally leave a child in the car longer than 5 minutes if the child is under 7 years old, and if the child is not attended by someone age 14 or older.
This is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by law. Injuries such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur in a matter of minutes. Complications of these dangers include shock, seizures, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, damage to the brain, liver or kidneys, and even death. Particularly in a place as hot as Texas, parked cars can reach dangerous temperatures for children in an extremely short time, leaving any young bodies inside susceptible to serious harm.
Nothing is more important than protecting the safety and well-being of our children. While schools of thought on regulating child supervision may differ in the legislatures and courthouses around our nation, the goal is the same – to protect kids from harm. Whether you live in a strictly controlled state like Illinois, or a guideline-based state like Texas, it pays to be informed about expert advice on child development. Keep lines of communication open with your kids, and prepare safety measures to ensure their time spent outside of your supervision is safe, successful, and confidence-boosting.
Thompson Law is a full-service legal firm based in Dallas, Texas, serving all of the state and much of the nation. If you, your child, or another family member that you love has been injured in an accident through the neglect of another, you should seek the advice of an attorney for your options.
For the help you need, at the time you need it, call Thompson Law. Our legal staff has over 350 years of combined legal experience, and we have a team standing by 24/7 to respond. We can meet you in person in our office, come to you, speak over the phone, email, or message by text or online. Whatever works best for your life works best for us.
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