Centre Daily Times: Is your child old enough to start babysitting? Here’s how it works in Pennsylvania

Babysitting is becoming increasingly common across the U.S. as busy parents try to find care arrangements for their children.

A 2019 study from the National Center for Education Statistics, for example, found roughly 59% of children ages 5 and younger and not yet enrolled in kindergarten were in at least one nonparental care arrangement each week.

If you’re considering asking a neighbor or a friend’s child to watch your own children, you may want to brush up on state laws regarding babysitting. Some states enforce minimum age requirements for children who hope to legally babysit as informal employment.

Here’s what you need to know about babysitting in Pennsylvania.

Is there a babysitting age minimum in Pennsylvania?

No, Pennsylvania state law does not specifically address a minimum age for babysitters. Additionally, the commonwealth does not dictate at what age a child can be left home alone.

Pennsylvania leaves these decisions up to parents, according to Pittsburgh family law lawyers Lisa Marie Vari & Association P.C. Should children be harmed when under the care of a babysitter or when spending time at home alone, parents could be charged with neglect.

Pennsylvania law defines child neglect as “any act or omissions that result in a failure to provide the essentials of life, including food, shelter, clothing, health care, personal care and proper supervision, and that create a potential for harm to the child’s safety, functioning or development.”

Charges can widely vary in Pennsylvania depending on the nature of the alleged neglect, but in most cases, child neglect is punishable as a felony. Endangering the welfare of children, for example, could constitute up to a second-degree felony if someone supervising children exhibited conduct that “created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury,” according to Pennsylvania law. A second-degree felony could result in a fine of between $5,000 and $25,000, imprisonment of up to 10 years or both.

Most U.S. states do not have laws specifying an age requirement for babysitting. Of the roughly 15 states that do, most minimum age requirements range from 10 to 14 years old.

Illinois (14 years old), Oregon (10 years old) and North Carolina and Maryland (8 years old) all have state laws dictating a minimum age for leaving a child home alone.

How do I know if my child is ready to babysit for others?

Care.com, an online directory for child care, senior care, pet-sitting services and more, recommends parents consider local laws and maturity levels before helping a child begin babysitting.

Consider the following tips from Care.com’s online guide if you are determining whether your child is ready to babysit:

  • How old is your babysitting-primed child? Generally, 12 years old is a good rule of thumb. Care.com argues that, by age 12, most children can focus on adequate child care and call for help if needed.
  • Consider training your child with babysitting and first-aid classes.
  • Discuss proper safety and care, and make sure your child knows how to make emergency calls.
  • Evaluate whether your child can focus on caring for others and if they are responsible enough to look after young children.
  • Make sure your child is comfortable spending time at home alone and taking care of themselves before expecting them to look after others.

The American Red Cross offers courses on babysitting and child care for children who are at least 11 years old. Covered topics include caring for infants and young children, emergency preparedness, babysitting business basics and more.

When are your children ready to stay home alone?

The nonprofit Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance recommends parents consider the following tips and guidelines when deciding if their children are ready 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 some 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 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 advises. Consider utilizing summer day camps, community centers or church activities to keep children busy if they are left alone at home too often.

Parents should leave their children with a first-aid kit and make sure they know how to lock windows and doors, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a federal service of the Children’s Bureau, the Administration for Children and Families and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Children should also know not to open doors for strangers or use heat appliances while parents are away.

From Centre Daily Times, January 12, 2024

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