As school is out and summer is in full swing, child care needs in Pennsylvania are back to some of the year’s highest levels.
Recent trends place increased pressure on parents and guardians in the Keystone State and across the country. Workers employed in child care jobs in Pennsylvania have dropped 8.5% from pre-pandemic levels, according to a 2021 Spotlight PA report. Across the country, child care costs have skyrocketed and reached an average price of $10,600 per year, according to advocacy organization ChildCare Aware.
Parents of younger children might turn this summer to alternative options, including summer camps, additional schooling or even days by themselves. But can you leave your child home alone in Pennsylvania?
IS IT LEGAL TO LEAVE MY KIDS HOME ALONE IN PENNSYLVANIA?
There are no specific state laws in Pennsylvania dictating what age a child can be left alone. Generally, it’s left to parents to determine if their children can handle the responsibility.
“Many people look to the law for help in making this decision, but there is no ‘legal age’ when a child can or should be left alone,” writes the nonprofit Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. “It’s up to each parent to decide what’s best for their family.”
Only roughly a dozen states offer legal age restrictions for children left at home alone, though most of them are merely guidelines, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a federal service of Children’s Bureau, the Administration for Children and Families and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Illinois (14 years old), Oregon (10 years old) and North Carolina and Maryland (8 years old) have laws requiring a minimum age for leaving a child home alone.
WHEN ARE YOUR CHILDREN READY TO STAY HOME ALONE?
The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance recommends parents consider the following tips to decide if their children are responsible enough to take care of themselves at home:
- Age and maturity — How have your children shown responsibility in the past? Can they care for themselves, and do they obey rules and make good decisions?
- Feelings – How comfortable is your child being left alone? Are they afraid?
- Time – How long will your children be alone? How often? Consider the time of day, plus times for meals and sleep.
- Other children – How many children will be in the home without an adult? Do they get along well, and are the older children able to care for the younger ones?
- Safety – How safe is your neighborhood? Check to have a safety plan for emergencies, and make sure children know addresses, phone numbers and how to call 911 if needed. Can your children contact you at all times? Are neighbors available to help?
The agency also offers a number of suggestions for parents whose children are ready for time alone at home:
- Use a trial period. Leave your children alone for a short time while you are nearby and see how they manage.
- Role play by acting out situations to help you children learn how to respond.
- Establish rules and make sure your children know what is and what is not allowed when you are not home. A list of manageable chores might help keep your children busy.
- Check in by calling your children while you’re gone or asking a friend to stop by.
- Talk to your children about their feelings. Encourage them to share how they feel about staying home alone and address their concerns.
- Don’t overdo it. Even the most mature and responsible children shouldn’t be left alone too often, the PFSA writes. Consider utilizing summer day camps, community centers or church activities to keep children busy if they are left alone at home too often.
Parents are also advised to leave their children with a first-aid kit and make sure they know how to lock windows and doors, the Child Welfare Information Gateway recommends. Children should also know not to open doors for strangers or use heat appliances, including ovens, stoves and toasters, while parents are away.
From Centre Daily Times, July 7, 2023