Does the State of Florida specify an age at which it is legal to leave a child home alone? For example, when you go to the grocery store, a part time job or the child gets home before you do. What about going to places like public parks or to the mall alone?
The state of Florida does not have a law or policy that establishes a specific age at which a child may be left alone without adult supervision or be responsible for the care of another child (babysitting, for example). This decision must be based on each child's individual characteristics, such as level of maturity, knowledge and capabilities. This decision also depends on other variables, such as the geographic location of the home; proximity to an adult who could help in case of an emergency or other immediate need; or the availability of communication. Additional examples to consider are the distance to the nearest adult neighbor, availability of transportation and access to a telephone in the event of a crisis.
Such variables and considerations, as a part of a parent's or caregiver's overall decision making, apply to circumstances in which children are allowed to participate in activities or to visit certain locations without adult supervision. Examples are allowing children to visit public parks, pools, malls, movie theatres, etcetera, without a specific, responsible adult accompanying them. Such places add an additional element of possible harm to children due to the potential for predators or accidents.
While there is no stated age limitation in the state of Florida for allowing a child to be left without adult or other competent supervision, in general, parental responsibility in evaluating whether his or her child is of sufficient age, competence, maturity, etcetera, should consider the following factors, noting that this list not exhaustive nor all-encompassing.
- Child's competence: age, maturity, behavior, habits, special needs and reaction to the supervision plan.
- Immediate environment: home conditions, neighborhood, time of day, duration and frequency of time without supervision.
- Presence and accessibility of a capable adult or person to assist with special problems; accessibility of the parent or other parent; and a plan to handle emergencies.
- Responsibility and expectations; care for other children; cooking and using appliances.
- Resources available to the parent to improve the supervision plan, if needed.
In essence, a parent or caregiver should consider whether the quality of the supervision plan places the child or children at risk of imminent and serious harm after evaluating his or her child's age, developmental needs, competence, maturity, environment, accessibility to a capable person to assist, etcetera.
There are many articles, publications and resources that might help you decide if your child, regardless of age, is mature enough to safely be left at home alone and to help you prepare your child for this step. Two related online resources for your review follow.
- Children's Forum: Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?
- Florida Attorney General's Office: How To Safeguard Your Children
Please remember that if at any time you believe any child is being abused and/or neglected—without adequate supervision, for example—you should immediately call the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 962-2873.
The Florida Abuse Hotline also provides the following guidance on their website regarding age factors and children left alone or without appropriate supervision.
How old does a child have to be to be left home alone?
Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes mandates that the Hotline be contacted when any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child of any age is being left home alone without adult supervision or arrangements appropriate for the child's age or mental or physical condition, so that the child is unable to care for the child's own needs or another's basic needs or is unable to exercise good judgment in responding to any kind of physical or emotional crisis.
The Hotline Counselor will assess the information provided in the call and make a determination of report acceptance or non-acceptance based on statutory criteria.
For more information on this or other topics, please contact our friends at Florida's Center for the Advancement of Child Welfare Practice.