when can you leave children at home alone?


        As often happens, law librarian Laura Orr covered an interesting and important topic last week at her Oregon Legal Research weblog: in her posting “Babysitting and the Law,” she addresses the question, “what age a child must be before he or she can be left home alone,” as well as at what age a child may be a babysitter.  Laura came to a conclusion that seems to be the consensus viewpoint: “[T]here may not be a definitive age for babysitting or for being left alone, but more a matter of training, maturity, and other factors.”   Laura’s posting offers links to Oregon materials on the topic. 

HomeAloneMovie  At ExpertLaw, Aaron Larson says:

“You can check with your state’s Department of Social Services to see if your state has a minimum age for leaving children unsupervised. You are likely to find that there is no specific age, although the common recommendation is that children under twelve be provided with appropriate supervision while their parents are away from home. There may also be a suggestion that an older sibling, even if old enough to be left at home alone, is not necessarily an appropriate babysitter for younger siblings.” 

 There are many good online sources with guidance for parents wondering whether their children are ready to stay home alone and how to make the experience as safe as possible for the children.  For example, see The Public School Parent Network‘s latchkey webpage; Children at Home Alone, a two-page brochure from Prevent Child Abuse New York; and the NSPCC’s Leaving Children at Home Alone.  [Of course, Macaulay Culkin’s experiences in the 1990 movie Home Alone were very funny but not very edifying for parents.]

podium   The most comprehensive and up-to-date resource appears to be the Children Home Alone and Babysitter Age Guidelines from the National Child Care Information Center.  For example, it notes that Illinois and Maryland now have statutes directly addressing the Home Alone issue, summarizes their laws, and links to more information.  After saying that States may have guidelines or recommendations about when a child is considered old enough to care for him/herself or to care for other children, the NCCIC advises that “these guidelines are most often distributed through child protective services and are administered at the county level.”  It then helpfully adds: “Contact Child Welfare Information Gateway at 800-394-3366, and staff there will refer you to your local child protective services agency to learn about age guidelines in your area.”

On the NCCIC Guidelines page, you will also find:

  • National organizations 
  • Examples of child supervision guidelines;
  • Examples of babysitter guidelines;
  • Demographic information about the number of children in self-care; and
  • Information about how to prepare children to stay home alone and to be babysitters.

pennyS  Finally, check out this Nolo article, for tips on Finding a babysitter or nanny.   In addition, you can learn about the American Red Cross babysitter training classes here, and click to see The Super Sitter, a booklet of helpful tips and safety information produced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.  [update (Feb. 28, 2007): LaborLawTalk Blog has state-by-state information on babysitting laws.]


  1. Carolyn Elefant

    February 21, 2007 @ 10:11 pm


    This is a really interesting post. When I was 9 or 10, my parents would often leave me home at night to watch my 3 younger sisters. Of course, that was back in the 1970s, and times have changed since then.

    As for me, I have recently started leaving my daughters (now 7 and 10) home alone when I go on trips to the local store or when my husband and I go out to dinner. The advantage is that these destinations are all within a mile of our house and with cell phones, we could easily return home in case of emergency (plus, I feel that having a dog, even a goofy deaf one is a deterrent since it seems that many scofflaws naturally assume that dogs are vicious). The problem that I find with the current social attitudes is that children become frightened of being alone. My daughters would never consider going to the park by themselves, even at their age, and I think it’s in large part because for so long, I always accompanied them.

  2. david giacalone

    February 21, 2007 @ 10:33 pm


    Hi, Carolyn. Wow, your girls are 7 and 10 already. Did you click through to see the Maryland Statute?

    Q: “At what age can a child be left home alone in Maryland?”
    A: Family Law Article, § 5-801, provides:

    (a) A person who is charged with the care of a child under the age of 8 years may not allow the child to be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person charged is absent and the dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle is out of the sight of the person charged unless the person charged provides a reliable person at least 13 years old to remain with the child to protect the child.

    A violation is a misdemeanor with a fine up to $500.

  3. JohnCannan

    February 22, 2007 @ 7:22 pm


    This issues comes up fairly frequently in Maryland. If you read through the police reports in the DC area, you will find the police citing parents for leaving the kids at home while the parent runs out to a store.

  4. Carolyn Elefant

    February 22, 2007 @ 10:20 pm


    Hi David,
    Yes, it is hard to believe that my daughters are so old now. Some things, like the leaving alone, are easier. But at the same time, I feel that I need to be around, more than ever, after school to hear about their day, oversee homework (though they are fairly self sufficient) and just be there.

    I’m familiar with the law. All I can say is that my younger daughter will be 8 in 6 more months, and I will be legal. In the meantime, I guess I will expect the police to show up at my door any day now that I have exposed myself.

  5. david giacalone

    February 22, 2007 @ 11:49 pm


    Let me know if you need a character witness, Carolyn. You, too, John.

  6. Elsa Green

    February 28, 2007 @ 3:56 pm


    Never leave your children unprotected. We live in a world where we cannot take safety for granted. If you were to hire a baby sitter, perform an extensive check on the baby sitter’s background. Never hire a baby sitter without a legal contract. Make sure you take all measures possible to esnure your children’s safety. Regards.

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