JACKSON, MISS– American Medical Response (AMR) has released information on how to keep children safe when they are home alone after school. Youngsters who take care of themselves for a few hours each day while parents are away are called “latchkey kids.” In some communities, half of all children age five to 13 spend part of their day at home alone. When school resumes each year, numerous parents return to work outside the home and more children become latchkey kids.
To help protect children at home alone, AMR has urged parents to eliminate certain household hazards and teach their children how to stay safe.
Stan Alford, operations manager with AMR in the Jackson area, said, “Latchkey children are at greater risk than those supervised by adults to suffer a serious injury, become victimized or engage in delinquent behavior. Proper planning, emphasizing safety, will help protect boys and girls on their own at home. There are laws against leaving children under a certain age at home alone and it’s a crime in every state to leave a child in a dangerous situation. So, first of all, parents have to comply with such laws.”
Alford said even with certain risks eliminated, it must be determined if a child is mature enough to stay home alone.
“Next, ask yourself if your child has the judgment to stay at home alone safely,” Alford said. “There is no age at which children suddenly are able to deal with the challenges of being home alone. Some younger kids are more mature and responsible than older children. Parents must assess each child individually and see how well he or she retains the parent’s safety instructions. It’s wise to build up gradually the time the child is at home alone.”
Parents who adopt the latchkey lifestyle must tend to these safety issues:
- Check your home thoroughly for safety risks. Eliminate the risks or teach the child to avoid them. For example, you might teach the child never to use the stove, but, instead, to use the microwave. If there is a gun the house, be sure it is it in a locked cabinet which only grown-ups can open.
- Post a list of emergency numbers in each cell telephone and on or next to every ground line phone in the home. Teach the child when and how to call 911.
- Be sure each child knows his or her full name, complete home address and home phone number, your full name, the exact name of the place where you work and your work phone number.
- Develop and practice fire escape plans. Involve the whole family in designing AND practicing your escape plan. Child-friendly how-to advice is free at sparky.org or www.nfpa.org.
- Require your children to take the same route to and from school each day. Walk that route with the children more than once, to be sure they know the way. Counsel them to come directly home. If possible, have them walk with friends.
- To know your child’s whereabouts at all times, use a cell phone app such as GPS Phone Tracker. Developed by Family Safety Productions, it’s free at Google Play.
- Establish a check-in routine so a responsible adult knows of the child’s arrival home. If your child checks in with you at work, develop a back-up system in case you are unavailable.
- Discuss with your children how to respond to strangers. Practice with your child to shout “No!” if approached by a stranger, then to get away from him or her and immediately tell a trusted adult.
- Don’t let children carry bags or other items with their names on them. Don’t let them wear keys in a visible place. Be sure keys don’t have a name and address on them.
- Assemble an age-appropriate first-aid kit with your child’s help. Teach your child how to use its contents, such as band-aids.
Practice with the children about how they would handle different situations, such as:
- They lose their key.
- What to do if they think they are being followed.
- The door is open when they first get home or a window is broken.
- Someone they don’t know or expect knocks at the door or calls by phone.
- How to answer the telephone without letting callers know they are alone.
- They receive a prank telephone call.
- A sibling gets injured or feels sick.