Latch-key kid safety

Up to seven million kids are regularly left home alone, and for many working parents there’s no option to do otherwise. What can you do to keep your child safe when you’re not there?

Up to seven million school-age kids are regularly left home alone, according to the Census Bureau – around 15% before school, 76% after school and 9% at night.

The safety implications are frightening – statistics show that each year around 4.5 million children are injured in their homes. Unsupervised latch-key kids are also more likely to do poorly at school and to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, alcohol abuse, drug-taking and teen sex. And as well as being more inclined to commit crime, they’re also more likely to be the victims of crime.

There are laws with regard to leaving children home alone, and most experts recommend not doing it before your child is 12, not doing so at night and not leaving a child under 16 in charge of younger siblings. Despite all this, for some parents there’s no choice – work commitments mean they can’t be there for their kids once school’s out. So how can you work out whether your child is ready and ensure his safety when he’s home alone?

Signs your child may be ready

  • They're self confident and not inclined to panic if things don’t go to plan.
  • They're open with you and willing to talk about things that might be bothering them.
  • They're not easily-led by peers.
  • They know their full address and phone number, and your work contact details.
  • They know how to dial 999 and can recognise when they might need to do so.
  • They follow directions well and don't need constant reminders.
  • They're trustworthy when it comes to staying inside and not answering the door when you aren’t there, even if friends call by.

Keeping your child safe

Even if your child is ready, there may be environmental factors you need to consider before letting them stay home alone.

  • Is your neighborhood safe?
  • Is their bus stop near the house and do they have an easy, well-lit and traffic-free route to your home?
  • Are there any neighbors close by that they can ask for help if there is a problem?
  • Is your home equipped with safety features such as deadbolts, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide alarms and a first-aid kit?
  • Are they going to be home with younger siblings?
  • Will there be a dog in the house with them?

Home alone safety tips

Ease them in gently by popping out to run a local errand for half an hour or so.
Place a clear list of emergency telephone numbers near the phone.
Tell them where you will be and how you can be contacted – and leave your cellphone on.
Get them to call you at work to let you know they are home from school. Make it clear what’s off limits, for example you may prefer that she doesn’t watch TV or surf the Internet when you aren’t there to supervise.
Show them a few simple first-aid measures, such as cleaning and bandaging a scrape or cut.
Remind them never to tell anyone who phones or calls at the door that they are by themselves in the house.
Drum it into themthat if the smoke or carbon monoxide alarms sound, they must leave the house immediately and call 999 from a neighbour’s phone.
Leave them a cold snack or a meal that can be easily reheated in the microwave.

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