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Question At what age is it okay to leave my children without supervision?

Answer The Office of Children and Family Services is often asked questions regarding the appropriate age to leave a child alone, or what age is appropriate to allow a child to begin babysitting. There are no straightforward answers to these questions. All children develop at their own rate, and with their own special needs and abilities. Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 years of age. Likewise, there are some 12 year olds or older youth who are too irresponsible or who have special needs that limit their ability to be safe if they are left alone. Parents and Guardians need to make intelligent reasoned decisions regarding these matters. Below there are some items for these decision-makers to consider before leaving a child alone. Be aware, this is the just the beginning of issues to consider. It is not an inclusive checklist to guarantee intelligent and reasoned decision-making:

  • Consider the circumstances: Where will the child be when left alone? How long is the child to be alone?
  • Consider the child: How mature is the child?
  • How comfortable is the child with the circumstances?
  • What has the child done in the past to show you he/she is able to take on this kind of responsibility?
  • Consider the child’s knowledge and ability: Does the child know how and when to contact emergency help? Is the child able to prepare food for him/herself?
  • Are there hazards to the child in the environment such as accessible knives, power tools, a stove or oven?
These same questions should be asked when considering whether a child is old enough to baby-sit. However, when considering a child as a babysitter, you must evaluate these factors for both the potential babysitter alone, and also as a child who will have to care for another child. A child of 12 might be fine alone for two hours in an afternoon. Yet, the same child may be incapable of responsibly caring for a 5-year-old for that same stretch of time.

Back Contact: Office of Children & Family Services Counsel's Office
E-mail:info@ocfs.state.ny.us
Phone: (518) 473-7793

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