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Altamonte Springs Police Department
Tuesday September 28th, 2010 :: 12:14 p.m. EDT


At What Age Can I Leave My Child Home Alone? See email for full story.

Today is a one question pop quiz? If you get it right treat yourself to an ice cream cone, get it wrong and you must eat a bowl full of beets! Here we go: In the State of Florida what is the legal age that a child can be left home alone? A.) 7 years old B.) 10 years old C.) 12 years old or D.) 17 years old. Please make your selection at this time using a number two pencil completely marking in the entire circle or your answer will not count -ooooh that’s fun being on the other side of those instructions we’ve all heard a thousand times growing up. Please answer now……If your reading this sentence and your paper is not marked that’s called cheating – last chance to answer truthfully!

If your reading this sentence and you have marked an answer you’re wrong – proceed directly to your pantry and dig out that can of beets and commence eating! If you recognized it as a trick question with no correct answers and your page is blank enjoy a triple scoop of your favorite ice cream - mint chocolate chip for me!

Florida law does not set a specific age to leave a child home alone. Instead the law places the burden on the parents to determine if their child is ready. There is no magic formula to measure a child’s readiness to assume self care at home. Some experts suggest that an excellent way to find out is to ask your child - most children will tell the truth. If your youngster is prone to be a worrier, has nightmares, or is nervous or anxious when he or she is alone, they may not be ready to stay by themselves. There are children, on the other hand, who will welcome the opportunity to demonstrate their maturity and will take pride in being allowed to take charge. In most cases, however, it will probably take a considerable amount of family discussion before a decision is reached.

Parents should consider their children’s maturity level. Do they understand and follow safety instructions? How do they do when it comes to making decisions under pressure? Do they think clearly and make the choice you would want them to? Do you and your child know and trust your neighbors who could come to your child’s aid if necessary? Do they know when and how to call 9-1-1? Can they safely make themselves a snack? If you can’t answer these questions with confidence, perhaps more time is needed to reach a decision.

There are some rather obvious things a family should do when preparing for youngsters to stay at home alone after school, beginning with a thorough check for safety risks in the house or apartment. This includes obvious dangers like access to firearms, adult beverages, and kitchen appliances - especially those that use natural gas. If cooking is to be “off limits,” plan to have snacks on hand that do not require heating up.

This is a good time to put together a First Aid kit with your child, and discuss appropriate measures in the event of an injury. Post emergency phone numbers near all the telephones in the house, and be sure to include contact information for neighbors and other relatives who live nearby. Take this opportunity to review emergency evacuation drills to refresh their memory about how to get out of the house in case of fire.

Be sure to require your child to take the same route to and from school each day, and to come straight home from school. Set up a check-in message routine so you’ll know they made it safely home even if you can’t come to the phone when they call. It is recommended once a child is home the doors and windows are kept locked at all times.

Another good rule is no company, no exceptions. That means when mom and dad are away, not even friends may enter the house. If someone calls and asks for a parent, the child should say they can’t come to the phone without letting the caller know they are home alone. It is also not advisable for kids to talk about being home alone and to keep their house key safely out of sight. Not only is it a temptation for friends to visit, but a careless word could alert others who might be unwelcome visitors.

In the United States over 5.8 million children care for themselves an average of 6.3 hours per week. Most experts discourage children under the age of 12 from being left alone however Florida law allows the parents to make that determination. Parents should not take this decision lightly as case law has held parents responsible for leaving a child alone who was not equipped emotionally and/or physically to safely care for themselves.

Altamonte Springs Police Department
175 Newburyport Ave
Altamonte Springs, FL 32701

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 407-339-2441

Lt Darin Farber
COPS Section

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