by Rebecca Kocsis
As group leaders we are often asked by parents if it’s okay to leave youngsters home alone for school. This is usually because both parents or a single mom work during traditional school hours.
Many people are often surprised to learn that there is no minimum age when a child can legally stay home alone. The federal government rightly leaves that determination to the state. The state of California has no such regulation. Both the state1 and federal governments2 have offered helpful guidelines for parents to make an informed decision for their families. So when it comes to homeschooling, there’s no hard and fast rule.
Homeschool groups are free to leave this determination with their families or to set up guidelines they feel comfortable with for their member families. The nature of your homeschool group will determine where you land on this topic.
It should not be surprising if a support group takes no position on this whatsoever. They are by nature associations that offer activities and support, but not necessarily accountability. Support group leaders may want to offer resources for families to make wise decisions for themselves should the need arise.
PSPs may not have policies on this either. Legally, there’s no need. Because of the accountability factor however, they may approach this from a different direction. As administrators are expected to sign transcripts and diplomas, they may have requirements for adult supervision during school hours. When school hours vary from family to family, especially with working parents, a PSP may very well want to know “who’s in charge” when the rest of the neighborhood children are in school. They may be called upon to verify enrollment and so have a vested interest in knowing a little bit more about their students’ learning environment.
Setting homeschooling aside, another perspective to consider is how social workers view children staying home alone. According to a recent report by NBC News3, social workers queried seem to think that 12-14 years old is a reasonable age to be home alone, depending on the circumstances. They would consider children younger than that, home alone for four hours to be neglect. And even with children in the 12-14 year old age range, if someone were to be hurt, most would then consider there to be some sort of neglect.
Keep in mind, as with any other topic in regard to child-raising, parents’ comfort zones will vary widely. When it appears that a parent truly is making dangerous or unwise decisions in this area, you may find it helpful to bring in a mentor mom to help coach them along. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a helpful checklist4 of topics to cover.
In our group, since every new homeschooler was assigned a seasoned homeschool mom to be their coach, there was already a relationship in place if needed. (Actually, in 15 years we only felt this needed to happen once.) If you have a family that may be teetering on the brink of a “danger zone” look for someone further along in the journey that they already have a relationship with to step in. That someone just might be you.
[Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information purposes only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.]
4American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Is-Your-Child-Ready-To-Stay-Home-Alone.aspx