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6/8/2010 Cope, Inc.
A Work & Life Article
Know the Law
Large numbers of children in this country and elsewhere come home after school to empty apartments and
homes. These children, often called “latchkey kids,” are responsible for their own well-being and
entertainment during after-school hours. Many working parents find this a source of anxiety and worry.
Before allowing a child to stay home alone or care for younger siblings, parents need to be aware of the
guidelines for child supervision in their community. Typically, these guidelines take into account a variety of
factors, including, but not limited to:
The child’s age before they may be left alone at home
The child’s mental, emotional and physical development
Guidelines for Leaving Children Alone
Do you know how old a child must be to be left alone at home? Many states and counties have strict laws
that govern latchkey kids. In Montgomery County, Maryland, no child under the age of eight is to be left
without supervision. A child that is between eight and 12 may be left alone for brief periods, but may not care
for children under the age of eight. In Fairfax County, Virginia, guidelines say that below the age of seven, a
child should not be left alone for any period of time.
Children ages eight to ten may be alone for up to 90 minutes. Above age eleven, the child may be alone for
up to three hours, but not at night. In Arlington County, Virginia, children under the age of six must not be left
unsupervised. Children ages seven through nine may be left alone for no more than 90 minutes. These are just
some examples of how regulations vary from place to place. To learn more call the Child Protective Services
or local government in your area.
Children should not be left alone at any time if they have medical or emotional problems that would impair
their judgment and safety. It is important that children of all ages know what to do to reach a responsible
adult in an emergency.
Guidelines for Child Sitters
In Fairfax County, the minimum recommended age for a child sitter is a “mature” thirteen years of age. The
sitter must be fifteen or older to care for a child under the age of four. The laws in the District of Columbia,
according to one agency require a child to be twelve years old, but another D.C. agency reported the age to
be eighteen. In Arlington County, children ages eleven and twelve may babysit for children ages four and
older. Responsible children over the age of thirteen may babysit infants and children under the age of four.
6/8/2010 Cope, Inc.
Useful Tips for Latchkey Kids
If your child is ready for self-care, there are many ways you can help him or her have safer and more positive
experiences after school. Here are some suggestions:
Check your home for safety risks
Post a list of emergency numbers near each telephone
Assemble a first-aid kit with your children’s help
Develop and practice fire escape plans
When Your Child Arrives Home
Encourage your child to take the same route to and from school each day
Don’t let them wear their name or keys in a visible place
Counsel them to come directly home
If possible, have them walk with friends
Establish a check-in routine so a responsible adult knows of their arrival
If your child calls you at work, develop a back-up plan in case you are not available
When They Are Approached by a Stranger
Discuss with your child how to respond to strangers
Have your child practice saying “NO!” and getting away from a stranger
Talk with your child about how to handle different situations
Have your child practice as many “what if this happened?” situations:
When they lose their key
Someone they don’t know knocks at the door
They receive a prank telephone call
They are approached by someone they don’t know over the internet
A sibling gets injured or feels sick
A pet needs help
Dealing with Boredom
Have your child make a list of activities
Suggest books to read, TV programs to watch
Get them started with a hobby
Dealing with Loneliness
6/8/2010 Cope, Inc.
Talk with your child about feeling lonely
Make sure they understand why you are not home
If possible arrange for your child to visit you at the office once a year
Have a trusted friend come over to play
Leave playful notes of encouragement in the house
Consider a pet if your child is mature enough to care for one
Michele Ginnerty, M.A. and
Daniel Carroll, Science Teacher
Arlington County Public Schools
Edited by Mary Sue McClain
CopeLines are published by COPE, Inc.