When an assistant of mine was eight years old she was left in charge of her younger siblings (one of them 6 years old and the other two a pair of 4-year-old twins) for extended periods of time during the summer so that her parents could work without the burden of child care expenses. The family lived 300 miles from any other family members at the time, so dropping the kids off with an aunt or uncle grandparent wasn’t an option for her parents.
In the state of Utah, that is perfectly legal. There is no law in this state for when a child is old enough to be left home alone. Since she was taking care of her siblings she was not technically employed (the Utah Code provides that a child must be 12 years and older for babysitting employment).
Was this a good idea for her parents? It worked out, but my assistant was a particularly precocious child that could handle that and the first aid class they enrolled her in, and they knew she would follow rules they set out without them there. It wasn’t without its mishaps—she burned her sister once trying to pour her ramen noodles into her bowl, and her little brother needed stitches when a wrench was dropped on his foot—but for the most part she was ready for it.
Not every 8-year-old can handle that responsibility, nor should they be expected to. Each child grows and develops at his or her own pace. Your child may be ready to be left alone when he or she is very young, and some children may be considerably older before they demonstrate the maturity needed to be left unattended safely.
The Children’s Service Society, funded by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, has put together a helpful checklist of things your child should be able to do before he or she is left alone for extended periods. These include the ability to lock and unlock doors, problem solving skills, talk easily to you about his or her feelings, handle responsibilities such as getting to school on time, among many others.
Some particularly impulsive children or kids who have not yet fully developed self-discipline may not be ready to be left alone. You, as the parent, are the best judge. Your ex may disagree. If you both feel are willing, it may be wise to start with trial run of a short trip to the store or other errands. Keep your cellphone with you in case your child needs to contact you and see how they do. Your kids just may surprise you for the better.
Child and Family Services | Frequently Asked Questions
Utah Code Title 34 Chapter 23 Part 2 Section 205
Children’s Service Society | (801) 355-7444 | Toll-free: (800) 839-7444