Serving Champaign, Douglas, Iroquois, Macon, Piatt and Vermilion, IL Counties
At some point during the school years, parents begin to consider the possibility of having children care for themselves before or after school rather than being cared for by others. Self-care can be a rewarding experience for children who are ready for it. It can help them develop independence and responsibility and can give them confidence in their own abilities. However, if the child is not ready, self-care can be a frightening and potentially dangerous situation.
Unfortunately, there is no magic age at which children develop the maturity and good sense needed to stay alone. However, there are some signs that show your child may be ready. Your child should:
Children who are able to get ready for school on time, solve problems on their own, complete homework and household chores with a minimum of supervision, remember to tell you where they are going and when they will be back are demonstrating some of the skills they need to care for themselves. For many children these abilities begin to appear between the ages of 10 - 12.
If your child is showing such signs, you may want to consider self-care. However, several other factors must also enter into your decision:
If your neighbor is unsafe, if there are no adults nearby to call in case of emergency or if your child must remain alone for a very long time, it is best to continue to use some form of child care even if your child seems ready to stay alone.
The following information is from the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services publication "Preparing Children to Stay Alone".
If you and your child agree that self-care is appropriate, the next step is providing your child with the knowledge and training needed for this new responsibility.
Children who stay alone need to
Know how to react in situations such as:
Know house rules about:
Children who stay alone need to have:
Good telephone skills:
Good personal safety skills:
Good home safety skills:
Providing your children with this knowledge gives them confidence in their abilities and will help them deal with any emergencies that may arise. When teaching your children, give information gradually rather than all at once. Too much information at a time is difficult to remember. Present your children with a number of situations and have them act out their responses.
After you have helped your child acquire the skills and knowledge needed to stay alone, set up a trial period of self-care in order to see how your child adjusts to the situation. Initially presenting it as a temporary arrangement lets children know they can choose not to continue if they are uncomfortable staying alone and also allows parents to more easily end the arrangement if they feel the child is unable to handle the situation.
Children who are mentally and emotionally ready to stay alone, who have been taught the skills and knowledge needed to deal with this new responsibility and who are able to talk easily with their parents about fears or concerns that may arise, can gain much from the opportunity to care for themselves.
When thinking about leaving children alone, whether for a short time or long time, it is important for parents to consider all the risks involved. There are many potential risks to children that need to be considered. It is also important to understand that parents and other persons responsible for a minor's welfare also face risks.
Parents are legally responsible for their children's welfare until they reach adulthood. Part of caring for children is providing adequate supervision. Under some circumstances a parent can be charged with neglect for leaving children unattended.
The children may also be removed from their home and placed into the state's care for their protection, until a judge decides that the home is safe for the children to return to.
Illinois law defines a neglected minor, in part, as "any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor's welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety or welfare of that minor."
Juvenile Court Act, 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(d)
What is appropriate under certain circumstances may be considered child neglect in other circumstances.
While recognizing that many factors may apply, Illinois law lists 15 specific factors to be considered when deciding whether a child has been left alone for an unreasonable period of time.
Parents and other persons responsible for a minor's welfare must think carefully about many things before leaving their children alone. This is important, even if a child is left alone only occasionally or for short periods of time.
If you always put the child's best interest first, you will be making decisions that will benefit your child. When children are placed in situations of independence that they can handle successfully, it can help them learn responsibility. However, asking too much too soon can produce frightening and potentially dangerous consequences for both the child and the parent.
|SELF CARE List|
Click above for a printable Self-Care Check-List to help you evaluate if your child is ready to stay home alone. It covers many of the discussion items from above.
Click above for a printable Imporant Phone Numbers list to have at home for a caregiver or for your child doing self-care. Use the list to record your own emergency numbers and vital information needed to know when calling for help.