Leaving a child alone in the home before the age of 12 constitutes child neglect, according to a survey of social workers.
The research involved 485 social workers specializing in child and family welfare, who were asked whether it is appropriate to leave a child home alone for four hours at various ages.
Almost all participants agreed leaving a four-year-old unsupervised amounts to neglect. More than half agreed a child was neglected if they were unsupervised in the home between the ages of six to 10, at 97 percent, 83 percent, and 51 percent for the ages of six, eight, and 10, respectively. This dropped to 11 percent for a 12-year-old, and 1 percent if the child was 14.
But the percentage who agreed a child had been neglected shot up to 64 percent if the 12-year-old was injured or if there was a home alone law in place where they lived, and to 51 percent if they were 14.
When asked to consider potential laws, 94 percent of respondents agreed it should be illegal for a child aged 8 or younger to be expected to care for themselves, and 80 percent for those aged 10 or under.
The survey carried out in 2015 was conducted online among members of the National Association of Social Workers.
The researchers wrote: "These results suggest the need for guidelines and/or safety laws related to childhood supervision, as well as their uniformity across the country, in order to direct social workers in their evaluation of potential cases of child neglect and to better protect children from harm."
Study co-author Dr. Charles Jennissen, professor and pediatric emergency medicine staff physician for the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, commented in a statement: "We found that social workers who participated in the study were significantly more likely to consider it child neglect when a child was left home alone if the child had suffered an injury, as compared to when they did not.
"The level of neglect is really the same whether a child knowingly left home alone is injured or not, and such situations should be handled the same by child protective investigators," he said.
The abstract for the study, entitled "Social Workers' Determination of When a Child Being Left Home Alone Constitutes Child Neglect," will be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2019 National Conference and Exhibition on Monday. The research has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Past research has shown 40 percent of injury-related deaths of children in the U.S. happened when an ad/ult wasn't around, the authors pointed out.
Illinois, Maryland, and Oregon are the only states to have laws regarding the minimum age a child can be left alone, at the ages of 14, 8 and 10, respectively.
Other states have more flexible laws, with some classifying neglect as failing to provide adequate supervision of a child, according to the Children's Bureau.
In order to decide whether their child can safely be left at home, parents should consider their maturity and if they are mentally and physically capable of caring for themselves, the agency advised.
Children should be deemed able to obey rules and make "good decisions," cope with unfamiliar or stressful situations, and not have a fear of being home alone before being left unsupervised. Parents may choose to arrange supervision for children with developmental or intellectual disabilities, the Children's Bureau said.
A survey has revealed the attitudes of social workers towards child neglect. A stock image of a 1-year-old irl and her pet dog waiting at the door of their home. Getty