When is it legally safe to leave a child home alone?

When is it legally safe to leave a child home alone?

What age to leave your child home unsupervised safely and lawfully is not a straightforward question to answer. According to The US Children’s Bureau, only three states have minimum age requirements for children to be left alone at home: 14 in Illinois, 8 in Maryland, and 10 in Oregon. However, regardless of where you live, as a parent or a child’s primary caregiver, you should evaluate the individual child for many factors that play a role in their safety and well-being before leaving them home unattended. The following text outlines the laws about allowing a child home alone in Texas and what to consider before you do.

Texas Laws on Children Home Alone

Texas is one of a majority of states without specific laws indicating an appropriate or minimum age at which a child can be left home alone. However, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recommends that children under 12 should not be left home alone. Additionally, parents and caregivers can be charged with neglect or endangerment if a child is left alone in a harmful or hazardous situation. Thus, it is wise to check with local authorities and, when in doubt, consult a legal professional for specific guidance regarding the laws in your area.

In addition, a parent could expose themselves to accusations or allegations of abuse, endangerment, neglect, or abandonment when leaving a child home unsupervised.

In Texas, child abuse is considered as causing physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or placing a child at risk of harm, injury, or danger. Child endangerment is putting a child in a situation where they are at risk of harm, while child neglect means failing to provide for a child’s basic needs. Child abandonment is leaving a child under the age of 15 in any place with the intent of not returning to the child. It results in a felony conviction for the parent(s) or legal guardian/conservator of the child, according to the Texas Penal Code 22.041(b). These types of actions can be considered criminal offenses in Texas and result in fines and imprisonment. Additionally, Texas’ DFPS is responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect reports and can remove children from the home if the child(ren) is deemed at risk of harm. A parent could find themselves in the position of losing custody and even parental rights.

If you responsibly evaluate the child and circumstances and conclude they are mature enough for the task, leaving your child home while grabbing a gallon of milk or finishing working for the day can be lawful and acceptable.

Elements to Consider Before Leaving a Child Home Alone

Whether or not your child can handle being home alone requires using parental judgment to review several aspects and elements beforehand carefully and not based on “hoping” they will be fine for 10 minutes or two hours.

You should consider the following factors before letting your child stay home alone:

  • Age
  • Mental and emotional maturity levels
  • Medical conditions
  • Ability to perform basic tasks independently (locking and unlocking a house door, unpacking backpack, self-discipline to do homework, getting themselves water, fixing a snack, etc.)
  • Fire safety and prevention knowledge
  • Access to and skill of using a phone to call a parent and 911 depending on the needs at hand
  • Previous experiences with being home alone
  • The duration of time the child will be home alone.
  • Security of the residence
  • Crime levels in your area (break-ins and burglary statistics)
  • Self-reliance level and coping skills

As highlighted in the above list of factors, parents should also consider their child’s comfort level being home alone and ensure they can contact a trusted adult in an emergency.

Tips to Consider Before Leaving Your Child Home Alone

There are some practical tips for leaving a child home without adult supervision (if you have determined your child meets the criteria).

Check-in System: A parent can set up a system of check-ins for their child being left home alone by creating a schedule of times when the parent will call or text the child to check in. The plan should include specific times, such as every hour or every two hours, and should be communicated to the child clearly. It is also essential to establish a means of communication, such as a phone or a messaging app, so that the child can reach the parent in an emergency.

Emergency Contact List: In case of an emergency, parents should include the names, phone numbers, and addresses of relatives, friends, and neighbors. These contacts should also be informed that they are on the emergency contact list and what to do if they get a call from the child.

Establishing and Communicating Expectations: As for the rules and expectations a parent might develop and convey to their child being left home alone, these may include:

  • Setting a curfew for when the child needs to be home after school and how to check in
  • Specifying a policy of “no visitors or friends at the house other than in emergencies” or establishing rules for visitors and friends
  • Orienting the child on how to use emergency numbers, locks, and security systems
  • Instructions for responding to emergencies such as fire, power outages, or medical emergencies
  • Training on basic first aid and what to do in case of an accident
  • Teaching how to use the stove, oven, and other appliances safely or establishing a “no stove or appliances” rule
  • Designating a plan for what to do in case of an emergency and including an emergency drill practice

Parents must communicate rules and expectations clearly and effectively with their child(ren) and be available to answer any questions or concerns their child may have. It is also critical to ensure that the child understands the significance of following the rules and that there will be consequences if they do not.

After evaluating your child to be left home alone, if you are still unsure, contact a skilled and knowledgeable Texas family law attorney who can help answer any questions and address concerns. If you left your child unsupervised at home and face allegations or charges associated with neglect and endangerment, immediately schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced Texas family law attorney.

Attorney Shannon Boudreaux at Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, LLC in Houston, TX offers the extensive experience and supportive guidance clients need to get through their divorce or other family matter as favorably as possible.