A latchkey kid is a school-aged child who regularly spends time home alone while a parent is at work. The term "latchkey" refers to the act of a child returning to a house without parental supervision and letting himself in. Two-income households and single parent households make this situation a very common one.
Age Restrictions for Latchkey Kids
Age restrictions for latchkey kids vary from state to state. Thirty-seven of the 50 U.S. states have no legislated age restriction for latchkey kids, reports Latchkey-Kids.com. Nine states do not set a specific age after which a child legally can stay home alone but do provide recommendations. Safe Kids Worldwide recommends that no child under the age of 12 or 13 be left at home alone. However, it is important for each family to assess the maturity of their children to determine their ability to return to an empty house and safely care for themselves until a parent returns home from work.
Laws in North Carolina
North Carolina does not have an age specified in the Juvenile Code pertaining to when a child can safely and legally be left home alone. There are guidelines in the fire code, however. North Carolina fire code states that no child under 8 years old shall be left home alone due to the risk of danger by fire.
Keeping My Latchkey Kid Safe
Be sure your child knows his address and phone number, as well as the phone numbers of both parents and a trusted neighbor. It is essential that a trusted neighbor is home and has a spare key to your house; there should always be an adult that an unsupervised child can turn to in case of emergency. Your child should know to never open the door for strangers or let a stranger know -- whether in person or on the phone -- that he is home alone. Make a rule that the front door shall not be answered while your child is unsupervised. Your child should know how to appropriately and safely lock all doors and windows. It is important that your child be able to recognize dangers in the home. For example, he should know what to do if the fire alarm goes off and how to clean up broken glass. Go over basic safety procedures to prevent injury and make sure your child knows how and when to dial 911.
What If I Think a Child Is Not Safe?
If you suspect a neighborhood child is being unsafely left alone, call your county department of social services. In some cases, a child may be mature enough to care for himself but should not be responsible for caring for siblings. Use your best judgement to report a situation in which you think a child may be in danger.