State laws differ as to what age you can leave your child home unattended, but Montgomery County, Maryland offers clear guidelines as to what qualifies as unattended and as to the age range appropriate for staying home alone and for babysitters. While age is important, you must also consider your child's maturity level and ability to follow instructions when considering leaving a child unattended for any length of time.
Under Age 8
You should never leave a child under age 8 alone, even for short periods. Maryland Child Protective Service Procedures classifies a child under age 8 as unattended if he is alone or under the care of a sitter under 13 or a caregiver who is otherwise considered unqualified or unreliable.
Age 8 to 12
If your child is between 8 and 12, Maryland Protective Services states that your child can stay home alone and unsupervised for short periods, such as before and after school, but not for an entire day. Children must have access to their parents or neighbors phone numbers and be instructed in what to do in an emergency. Children under 12 may not be the primary caregiver for younger children -- even siblings.
Age 13 and Up
Children over 12 are legally allowed to babysit younger children, and are legally allowed to be left unattended. However, although there are no laws dictating how long you can leave a child over 12 alone, as a parent or caregiver, you must use appropriate judgment -- particularly with children at the younger range of this spectrum -- when leaving children unattended for an extended time or overnight. Of course, you must leave children over 12 with resources such as emergency contacts, emergency instructions and access to food, water and transportation for school.
Even when children are old enough for their parent to leave them home alone, parents or guardians are responsible for their children’s wellbeing until age 18. If parents leave children for an extended time or without adequate resources, child protective services may intervene. Likewise, leaving an unattended child who has special needs -- even if he meets the age guidelines -- could create a case in which protective services will investigate the parents.