Editor's Note: The safety tip for the month of June is provided by Mifflin County Communities That Care. This is an ongoing monthly series provided by CTC to help inform the public about key areas of safety concerns.
LEWISTOWN - Once again, summer has come and children are out of school. The question for some parents becomes, "Can my child stay home alone?"
Mifflin County Children and Youth wants you to keep your children safe this summer. Though neither Pennsylvania law nor the Department of Public Welfare policies specify the age at which a child can be left alone, the following guidelines may be used if the child has no physical or mental disabilities, if being left alone is not an every-day situation, and if the home and neighborhood are safe:
Pre-School: Never leave your pre-schooler alone without adult supervision.
Grade School: Can be left alone for approximately one or two hours during the day if he or she has constant access to a responsible adult, is not caring for younger children, and demonstrates the ability to be responsible and mature.
Junior High: Could be left alone for periods of time, approximately four hours, during the daytime or evening hours and can care for one or two younger children if there is constant access to a responsible adult.
High School: Can be left alone and can care for younger children unless the responsibility is too great (such as four younger children); the length of time is too long (such as all night, every night); or the teenager is not reliable and mature.
Remember that age and grade may be irrelevant when talking about a child with behavioral issues, mental health issues, physical disabilities, etc. If you are unsure about what is appropriate for your child, please call Mifflin County Children and Youth Services at 248-3994 with your questions; we are glad to provide you with information over the phone.
When you're ready to leave your child home alone for the first time, be sure to:
Consider your child's age and maturity level. For example, if your child tends to be impulsive, you should wait until he or she is older than 12 years of age. Begin with several "dry runs" where you leave your child home alone for short periods of time.
Leave a phone number where you can be reached. If possible, provide a land line in addition to your cell phone number, just in case your cell phone service is disrupted for any reason.
Call home to check on your child. If possible, make arrangements for your child to check in with you, or with a relative or neighbor, while you are out.
Be specific in discussing your expectations and how you would like your child to use his or her time. For example: Is the TV allowed? If so, are there any channels that are off-limits? Do you want your child to answer the phone? Are there any chores that should be completed before you arrive back home?
Other questions to answer include: May your child use the computer? Can your child have friends over while you're not at home? Can he or she go to other friends' houses while you're not at home?
Also make sure your home is childproof. For example: Are medications kept in a locked cabinet? Are there firearms in the home? If so, are they in a locked cabinet and/or do they have child safety locks? What could your child potentially get into that might cause harm?
Practice with your child how to handle an emergency. Talk about what your child should do in a given emergency. For example: What would you do if someone was trying to get into the house? What would you do if there were a fire?
Ask your child if he or she feels confident and ready to stay home alone. If he or she is hesitant, hire a babysitter and reconsider this issue in six months.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child staying home alone, or if you are concerned about another child being left home alone, please call Mifflin County Children and Youth Services at 248-3994. Mifflin County Children and Youth Services, along with Mifflin County Communities That Care, wish you and your family a safe, fun summer.
Jennifer Hepner is the secretary for both Mifflin County Children and Youth and Mifflin County Communities That Care.