It's a question every parent deals with. When is it safe, responsible, and legal to leave my child alone?

The answer, as every parent knows, can be difficult. You want your child to be confident and self-sufficient, but you also don't want to put them in harm's way.

My sister and I grew up as Grand Junction 'latchkey kids.'  We were usually alone for short periods of time after school and our parents made sure we understood and followed certain rules. Also, a neighbor across the street would check on us as needed.

That worked for us, but as parents know, not all families are the same and leaving your child alone can be a difficult decision.

The Colorado Department of Human Services in Partnership with CO4Kids (CDHS) says age is a big consideration, but shouldn't be the only criteria for leaving children alone.

To help parents make the best decision, CDHS has a list of things every parent should consider before leaving a child alone either for a short or extended period of time.

Is my child mature enough? If so, they should be able to;

  • Make the right choices to care for themselves without supervision
  • Know what to do in the event of danger, injury or emergency
  • Be confident and comfortable being alone

Is there someone that can respond if the child needs help and does the child know and understand what to do? This includes;

  • Knowing who and how to easily and quickly contact for assistance
  • If that person is not a parent, knowing where and how to contact parents
  • Being able to clearly state the situation and need when asking for help

Does the situation provide a good opportunity for the child to further develop self-confidence and self-sufficiency? Some things to consider;

  • The parent's absence is planned with all the details clearly understood
  • There is someone who can respond immediately if a problem arises
  • Leaving the child alone will not put them at risk of neglect or abuse

Colorado does not have a specific age when children can be left home alone, but according to CDHS, it is generally accepted that by the age of 12, a child can be left alone for short periods of time.

Each child is different, so there may be families with a child older than 12 who shouldn't be left alone. Also, even if the child is able to take care of him/herself, that does not mean they have the maturity and ability to be in charge of or take care of siblings.

The CO4Kids Frequently Asked Question Section has a tab titled 'When is it Legal to Leave Children Alone?' that opens to a comprehensive list of ways to determine if your child is ready for this step in personal growth and maturity. The information also educates parents about the possible risks and helps them be confident and prepared to ensure their child's success.