PORTLAND -- With summer here you might be wondering at what age you can leave your kids home alone without breaking the law.
Oregon has a lengthy law which basically says kids should be at least 10. Washington has no age specifications. Only a handful of states in the country set an age.
The Department of Human Services in Oregon says enforcing the law is based on much more than age. The agency reports an increase in the number of calls during the summer months.
“We have parents call and ask, or neighbors wondering about kids they see,” explained Gene Evans a spokesman for the DHS. The department has screeners taking those calls who ask questions helping to determine if a child is being neglected.
Many parents are reluctant to leave kids on their own. “I would worry about the oven, strangers coming to the door and about their overall behavior,” said Lynn Brown, the mother of 4 young children.
Some begin by leaving children for short spans of time. “ I did it for the first time last week,” said Mom Sara Freedman ,”I went for a run, a very short run.”
Freedman says she waited until her 10-year-old son showed he was ready, “He is very level-headed and has been acting more mature lately.” According to state guidelines, Sara made the right call.
DHS looks at the maturity of the child, the environment and the amount of time they spend alone.These factors are evaluated to determine if the parent is putting a child in danger.
The American Red Cross offers a course to help kids prepare for being home alone. The course, called “When I’m in Charge” takes 8- to 11-year olds through a workbook.
“I think giving children the tools to take responsibility for themselves goes a long way,” explained instructor Jonathan Irvin. The National Safe Children campaign recommends 12 as the age when kids can be left home alone and the Latch Key Program says limit the time to three hours.
No matter what the age, The Red Cross reminds parents that with the responsibility comes anxiety, too.
“All the fears they have when parents are there will be enhanced,” warned Irvin.
Latch Key recommends frequently checking in by phone and to watch for signs your child is uncomfortable. According to the website, if you come home and the television and radio are on very loudly, your child is likely uncomfortable and there’s also a possibility they could begin having nightmares.
There are also additional tips for parents on the SafeNetwork web site.