FORT LEE, Va. – The question of when a child can be left home alone is asked frequently once school lets out and summer vacation starts.
Most communities, including Fort Lee, set age limitations for unsupervised children. Other considerations for those old enough to be legally left home alone include maturity level, knowledge of what’s safe and what’s not, and the ability to think and act quickly if an emergency occurs.
The primary guideline on Fort Lee is any child age 10 or younger must be directly supervised at all times, including while waiting at bus stops, walking home and playing in common areas like playgrounds. Parents should never assume other adults or older children in the area are ensuring the safety of their dependents.
When a child turns 11 and has entered 6th grade, they can be left home alone on post for no more than 2 hours with regular check-ins by a parent or guardian. Seventh and 8th graders can be alone for 4 hours; 9th and 10th graders for 6 hours, and 11th and 12th graders for 10 consecutive hours. So, 6th to 10th graders must never be alone all day in the summer.
Three questions to ask to determine if a child can be alone are:
1. Is the child physically and mentally able to care for themselves?
2. Does he or she obey rules and make good decisions?
3. Do they feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
When parents think their child meets the home alone guidelines and can answer yes to those questions, they must make sure the youngster can provide for his or her own care.
A child must know their full name, address and directions to the home and phone number. The youngster should have phone (work and cell) numbers to contact their parents and someone to contact in the case of an emergency.
Near the telephones or on the refrigerator, the child must have the phone numbers of the military police (804-734-7400), the Fire Department (911) and poison control (1-800-222-1222).
The child has to know how to use the phone, what to say to callers who ask to speak to their parents and how to contact an operator. The child must be able to manage having a key and be able to let themselves into the home. The child must be able to contact his or her parents when they get home.
Children who are home alone must be able to appropriately respond to the following situations: what to do if there is a fire; what to do if they get injured; what to do if the electricity goes out; and how to prepare for inclement weather. Additionally, the child must know what to say and do if a stranger approaches and how far away from the home they can play, if they are allowed outside.
If a parent decides to let their child stay home alone, start with short periods of time as a test. Make sure there are clearly defined rules and write them down as a reminder. One thing that should be clear is, “if you abuse it, you lose it,” which should apply to any new freedom or privilege. Practice all the things the child needs to know so both of you are aware that they can answer the questions if they’re home alone.
If a child or children are found home alone and they are outside the guidelines for their age/grade, the MP’s will contact the Social Work Services/Family Advocacy Program to assess the allegation of child neglect. Social Work Services will then notify Prince George County Child Protective Services to report it if justified.
If anyone is not sure of the rules for being home alone, call Army Community Service at 804-734-6381. To make child care arrangements, individuals can contact the CYS Parent Central Service office at 804-765-3852. Help prevent neglectful situations by reporting inadequate supervision or suspected child abuse of military children to the military police at 804-734-7400, Family Advocacy Program (Clinical), 804-734-9062 or the Virginia Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline 1-800-552-7096.
Remember, the parent is responsible for not only being at home, but also for supervising his or her children when they are outside playing. The child supervision guidelines apply to all activities on post.