This is the question asked to Child Safe Canada by thousands of parents every year. The age at which children in Canada can be left at home alone for reasonable and short periods of time varies from province to province, ranging anywhere from approx. 10 to 12 years. There is no legislation in Alberta that determines an age at which a child may safely be left home alone. Alberta has placed that decision into the parent’s or guardian’s hands (assuming they are not placing a child in harm’s way).
Further to these expectations, all parents or guardians hold the responsibility to assess the risks and benefits to the child and make a responsible and safe choice regarding when the child can safely begin staying home alone. Alberta’s Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act explains that if a child’s safety is endangered by being left home alone that child may be considered neglected. This neglect would be determined by assessing the length of time the child is being left alone, the child’s maturity level, knowledge, responsibilities, available resources, length of time left alone, frequency, and degree of isolation while being left alone. There may then, be intervention by child protection if a child is left for extended periods of time, if a child is not thought to be mature enough to act responsibly in an emergency situation, or if the child has been left home alone without being empowered with formal or informal home alone safety skills. It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that a child will have the skills and resources to react appropriately in an emergency situation. The home must present minimal risk by being safe and secure and the child must have access to a reliable telephone, emergency contacts and support system, and a basic first aid kit.
“Being Home Alone is not an event, but instead it is a process!”
Being home alone should be a process that is initiated in gradual and supervised stages. Start with small periods of time, and slowly increase the amount of time with the child’s skills and growing maturity level. Make sure that at all times the child is remotely supervised, supported, and has direct access to assistance in difficult or frightening situations. Parents are encouraged to regularly reinforce the household safety rules and most importantly, talk to your child about how they feel when they are home alone. Parents should monitor closely the process, and offer or revoke ‘home alone’ time to coincide with the child’s demonstrated level of maturity.
An important and often overlooked aspect of home alone safety is the focus on comfort and confidence. If a youth is scared and nervous, they will not react safely in an emergency situation. It is additionally important that parents clarify, that being home alone is a privilege that is earned through demonstrating mature behavior. Guide the youth through the important steps of becoming independent. Foster not only a deep respect for the privilege of being home alone, but also anticipation for the process of growing up and being offered more independence and responsibility. We want the youth to feel comfortable and confident and therefore, be SAFE! Child Safe Canada offers a Home Alone Safety program to fulfill all the safety and educational requirements to begin the process of being home alone. It doesn’t matter whether a child is properly educated at home or through a community program, what matters is that it gets done!
“If a parent isn’t sure if it’s time for their child to be home alone...it isn’t”
Tracey Warren is the Director and a Child Safety Expert with Child Safe Canada Safety Education Programs www.childsafecanada.com
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