Eventually every parent is faced with the question of whether his or her child is old enough to begin staying home alone. When older children are placed in situations of independence that they can handle, it can help them learn responsibility. However, asking too much too soon is dangerous and hold consequences for the child and the parent.
Children left unsupervised or in the care of young siblings are at increased risk for accidental injury and behavioral and academic problems.
Massachusetts does not set a specific age at which a child can be left home alone; such issues are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Massachusetts regulations define neglect as the failure by a caregiver, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e. neglect can occur while the child is in an out-of-home ot in-home setting.
Because children mature at different rates, there is no single, pre-set age at which children are considered “old enough” to stay home by themselves for short periods of time. Parents must evaluate their child’s individual development and physical capabilities.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends that children not be left alone before the age of 12. Many other children will not be ready until later than that. Also, experts caution that older siblings are generally not ready for the responsibility of supervising younger children until the age of 15 or older.
Massachusetts does not have a hard and fast rule about when children can be left home alone, but instead expects parents to take all of the circumstances into account when deciding what level of supervision is needed.