This issue has popped up recently in the news in regards to leaving kids alone at home. And I get it... It's busy season at my house daily now. Soccer practice and games, volleyball, vocal jazz, life groups, and much more, litter our weekly calendar. That being said, it can be fairly difficult balancing the amount of time one needs to be away from home, and sometimes our schedules just don't match up. So, how do you decide what kid(s) get to stay home alone and which cannot or maybe should not be left alone. I think I was probably 10 when I was left alone for the first time, but I grew up on a farm and was used to entertaining myself, but I digress...


How old does a kid need to be in Iowa before being left home alone?

Legally and technically there is no Iowa law that prescribes a minimum age at which a child can be left unattended. There is no generic agreed-upon age for when children can be left alone. They mature at different rates, and some kids can accept the responsibility of being home alone earlier than others. Now, that doesn't mean you can't get in trouble for leaving your child unattended. Under Iowa law, and in many other states, failure to provide proper supervision of children is a category of child abuse. Iowa Department of Health and Human Services evaluates child abuse reports on a case-by-case basis. Iowa is among 39 states that has no set minimum age for kids staying home alone and leave the decision up to parents.

kids having great time playing at home
Credit: Dejan_Dundjerski

How old does a kid need to be in Illinois before being left home alone?

The State of Illinois has some of the toughest laws in the nation when it comes to leaving kids home alone. Currently, leaving any child under the age of 14 home alone is illegal. Anyone who violates this law can be found guilty of child neglect, which can result in up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Legislators have tried to lower the age to 12 with House Bill 4305 but it didn’t make it through to voting.

Credit: daniilphotos
Credit: daniilphotos

How old does a kid need to be in Wisconsin before being left home alone?

Wisconsin does not have statutes or regulations that state the age at which a child may be left unsupervised, or left in charge of other children. Wisconsin is among 39 states that has no set minimum age for kids staying home alone and leave the decision up to parents. That being said, Wisconsin does issue guidelines for the Abandonment of a child. "Whoever, with intent to abandon the child, leaves any child in a place where the child may suffer because of neglect is guilty of a Class G felony." Also, part that bill features wording on child neglect, chronic neglect, and failure to support.

Credit: FamVeld
Credit: FamVeld

What do the experts say on an appropriate age for children to be left alone?

One of the largest integrated pediatric health systems in the country, Nemours KidsHealth, has said most children under the age of 10 do not often have the skills to handle emergencies if they are home alone. However, research conducted in 2019 at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that a majority of nearly 500 social workers said they thought children should be at least 12 before being left alone four hours or longer. In addition, they weren’t as likely to consider a home-alone scenario neglect unless the child was injured. The study found nearly all social workers thought leaving a child home alone for four hours was child neglect at the age of 6 or younger; only about half indicated it was neglect if the child was aged 7 to 10. Additionally, Dr. Charles Jennissen said, "lack of adult supervision contributes to more than 40% of U.S. pediatric injury-related deaths."

Busy woman trying to work while babysitting two kids
Credit: grinvalds

Should I feel guilty about leaving my kids home alone?

That all depends on the situation you're in. Before leaving the kids at home, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your child show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores, and following directions?
  • How does your child handle unexpected situations? Does your child stay calm when things don't go as planned?
  • Does your child understand and follow rules?
  • Can your child understand and follow safety measures?
  • Does your child use good judgment?
  • Does your child know basic first aid?
  • Does your child follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?

If you're confident in your answers, your kids are probably fine to be left alone; parents usually know what's best for their kids.

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