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Home Alone: What is the recommended age for children?

Posted 3/12/2010   Updated 3/9/2010 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Sheri Ward
82nd Medical Operations Squadron

3/12/2010 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Supervision of children is basic to the prevention of harm. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services describes adequate supervision as: an adult caregiver is accountable for the child's care.

Although, there is no Texas law that defines a specific age at which a child may be left home alone, there are several factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding how closely to supervise a child.

Some of these factors include:

· the age, emotional maturity and capability of the child
· layout and safety of the home, play area or other settings
· neighborhood circumstances, hazards and risks
· the child's ability to respond to illness, fire, weather, or other types of emergencies
· Does the child have a mental, physical or medical disability

Additional relevant factors include the number of children left unsupervised, the accessibility to other responsible adults, the length of time or frequency the child is left alone and the child's knowledge of the parent's whereabouts.

Sheppard Air Force Base follows the regulations set by Air Force and can be found in the Balfour Beatty Communities Resident Guide (page 22-23 March 2008).

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services does not recommend leaving a child in a motor vehicle for any length of time. If children are trapped inside cars, especially during seriously hot weather, it can result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

This could lead to permanent disability or death in a matter of minutes.

Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, can cause shock, seizures, irregular heartbeat, heart attack and damage to the brain, liver and kidneys.

Leaving a child in a vehicle is punishable under the Texas Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 22, Section 10 Leaving a child in a vehicle. A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is:

· Younger than seven years of age
· Not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older

An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor. If the child is injured, the charge is then elevated to child endangerment, which is a felony. The penalties are six months to two years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.

Leaving a child unattended in a car is also a form of neglectful supervision.

Family Advocacy encourages parents to review all guidelines to ensure they take appropriate action for the safety of their children. The chart below provides guidance for Sheppard residences and is based on the child's ability to demonstrate age-appropriate behavior.

Failure to follow these guidelines could prompt a child neglect investigation.

For additional information or questions please contact the Family Advocacy Office at 676-2271.

Here are the Sheppard Child Supervision Guidelines

· Newborns - age 5: are not allowed to be left without adult supervision.
· Age 6: are allowed to play outside within visual sight or hearing distance to adult supervision.
· Age 7: may be left alone in a vehicle for 15 minutes maximum, with keys removed and the handbrake applied.
· Age 9: Allowed to walk to Youth Center in daylight hours without an adult and only with parent permission.
· Age 10: allowed to be left without a babysitter for two hours or less, with ready access to a phone number for an adult supervisor. Children may be left without a sitter in quarters for up to four hours.
· Age 11 in at least 6th grade: may sit siblings for less than two hours.
· Age 13: children may be left without a sitter in quarters for up to eight hours. Children may sit their siblings and other children for up to eight hours.
· Age 14 or high school freshmen: children may be left alone overnight with access to adult supervision in local area.
· Age 16 and up: minors may be left alone for short temporary duty assignments or leaves, not to exceed five consecutive days with an adult supervisor administering periodic checks.

Adult supervision is defined as someone who can assume responsibility for the child including a parent, guardian or friend.

We recommend that adolescent babysitters not watch more than two children at one time with no more than one of these children being under the age of two years.

Any child 14 years or younger will not be in a public place on Sheppard from 11 p.m.- 6 a.m. A public place is defined as any location other than a resident's own home and yard or the home and yard where resident is an invited guest.

Red Cross baby-sitting training (held at the Youth Center--call 676-5395) is strongly recommended.

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