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05 November 2019

How young is too young to leave kids home alone?

Most social workers agree that leaving a child six years or younger home alone for four or more hours should be regarded as neglect.

Children should be at least 12 years old before they're left home alone for four hours or more, a majority of US social workers surveyed say. Also, social workers are more likely to consider it neglect if a child is injured while home alone.

When is it neglect?

The email survey asked 485 members of the National Association of Social Workers to consider different scenarios in which children of various ages were home alone for four hours.

Nearly every social worker said leaving a child six years or younger home alone for four or more hours represented neglect. More than 80% agreed if the child was eight or younger, as did more than half if the child was 10 or younger. Fewer described the scenario as neglect if the child was 12 or older.

The social workers were much more likely to consider it neglect if there was a law against leaving a child at home alone, or if a child was injured while left alone.

More than half said it should be illegal to leave a child under 12 alone for four hours, and four-fifths said it should be illegal for kids under 10.

Lack of adult supervision

The survey findings were scheduled to be presented at a meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in New Orleans.

Study author Dr Charles Jennissen, a clinical professor at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, said social workers were far more likely to consider it neglect if a child got hurt while left home alone than if they did not.

"The level of neglect is really the same whether a child knowingly left home alone is injured or not, and such situations should be handled the same by child protective investigators," he said in an AAP news release.

Research shows that lack of adult supervision is a factor in more than 40% of injury-related deaths among US children, according to the study authors.

Image credit: iStock

 
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