A report recently released by the United States Census Bureau indicates that nearly seven million school-age children per year are regularly left at home without adult supervision
The youth often take on more responsibility at an earlier age and, as a result, the children feel they are old enough to stay home alone.
According to the national Safe Kids organization, nearly 4.5 million children ages 14 years and younger are injured in the home annually. The majority of unintentional injury-related deaths among youth occur in the evening hours when children are most likely to be out of school and unsupervised.
Since school is out for the summer, more incidents will likely occur in Carbon County involving unattended children.
Parents often struggle with the decision to leave youth home unsupervised.
Responsible parents also diligently strive to weigh children's ability to care for themselves with risks that may arise from being home alone.
"Parents need to consider many factors when leaving a child home alone," advised Safe Kids campaign director, Heather Paul. "Children mature at different rates, so it is crucial to evaluate a child's individual development as well as physical capabilities."
The national Safe Kids campaign recommends that children are not left alone before the age of 12. However, the Utah Department of Child and Family Services advises that it is the parent's decision as to what age to leave a child home without adult supervision.
"There is no specific law in Utah that says that a child has to be a specific age in order to be left alone. Rather, the decision should be based upon the child's development," explained regional DCFS supervisor Beverly Hart.
The family services department supervisor recommends that Carbon County parents exercise caution and refrain from automatically assuming that children are staying out of trouble.
"Even if the child is left alone, it is still the parent's responsibility to make sure that the kid is safe," pointed out Hart."
"Parents should coach their children on rules and don't assume that they already know what behavior is acceptable and what is not. The need for supervision does not decrease with age," added Hart.
Parents and caregivers should begin leaving children home alone progressively -for only a short time at first - and stay relatively close to the residence.
To ensure the well-being of youth staying at home alone, the national Safe Kids organization recommends Carbon County parents and caregivers follow several tips:
Place all emergency numbers - including doctor, hospital, police department, fire department, poison control center and a reliable friend or neighbor - in a visible place near all telephones in the home.
Make the child aware of these numbers and advise them when is the proper time to call each listed contact.
Point out potential hazards in the home such as electrical appliances and heating equipment and teach the child how to avoid injuries from these items.
Make sure the child knows where the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are located.
It is extremely important to have a designated fire escape plan as well and practice this procedure on a regular basis.
Also have an alternate escape route in case the first one is blocked by fire.
Before leaving the home, remind the child to get out of the house immediately if the smoke alarm or carbon monoxide alarm sounds and to call the fire department from a neighbor's house.
Insist that the child uses the proper safety gear while cycling, in-line skating or skateboarding and that they always wear a helmet for these activities.
According to the Safe Kids organization, bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and brain injury by as much as 88 percent.
Show the child where the first aid kit is and how to use the items in it.
Prepare a snack or meal for the child in advance, preferably one that does not need to be heated.
If the meal must be heated, it should be mircrowavable. If not, remind the child to turn off the oven or stove and to never leave a pot unattended while cooking.
Inform the child as to where, a parent or guardian will be, how they can be reached and when they will return home.
If possible, leave a beeper or cellular phone number. Knowing that the child can reach their parent or guardian in an instant will help put the adult and the child at ease.
Often times, concerned citizens will see that a child is left alone and will contact a law enforcement agency or the local child and family service office.
Hart explains that each case is checked on, but often times no action will be taken.
"If the child is at danger or is in an unstable environment, then we will step in. But if an older child is left home alone for an hour or so and their needs are met, then there is little that we can do. All that our agency recommends is that parents use their best judgement when it comes to leaving children home without an adult," Hart concluded.