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Old enough to stay home alone? 'Depends on the maturity level'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- Many families struggle with what the kids should do during the summer months when out of school. Some working parents may consider letting them stay home alone, and experts say that's an individual choice.

They advise it should be based on each kid's maturity level.

"First and foremost, it's important for the parents to realize that it is up to their discretion, what age the child is OK, mature enough to be left home alone," Ashley Glover told Eyewitness News. She's a crime prevention specialist with Kern County Sheriff's Office.

It's a very individual decision, she says. "There's not currently a law in place that states an age where a child can or cannot be left alone, home alone," Glover explained.

"I definitely think they need to be old enough," Tiffany Skoviera said. "Probably 13, maybe?"

She had her 5-year-old daughter at a spray park in northeast Bakersfield.

"All depends on the maturity of the kids," parent Enrique Rodriguez said, "if they can be trustworthy." He agrees, the situation can be tough for working parents.

"It's hard for us, we don't have anybody to take care of the kids," he said. Rodriguez said he and his wife work different schedules so they can be home with the kids, he adds that child care can get expensive.

But, the hazards at home are a big worry.

"What if somebody comes to the house?" mother Martha Trevino says. "Something happens, and they don't know what to do? I also have a pool in the backyard."

Glover says if parents think the kids can stay home alone, next they need to prepare and plan. That can start with going over some possible scenarios.

"What happens if they need to use the toaster? What happens if they can't reach something?" Glover describes. "Or if a friend wants to come over and play?"

She says parents can line out some rules on having friends over, rules on use of social media and the computer, and rules like never opening the door.

Safety rules are also important. Kids should know how to respond if there's a fire. They should also have guidelines on answering the phone and know how to call 911, and when that's appropriate.

How can you be more confident kids can do that? Glover says, start small.

"Leave for a 10-minute errand, and see if they're ready, if they get scared," she advises. "And then kind of work your way up, before you leave them home alone for a full day."

"I definitely know my parents left us," Tiffany Skoviera says, but that's when she was a teenager. Now a mom herself, Skoviera remembers what her mother did for safety. "My mom always wrote us a note, what we were supposed to do. And we also had neighbors that she trusted."

That's exactly what the experts also echo.

"Trusted neighbors, a family friend, somebody that's not working," Glover suggests. "Especially in the first couple weeks, the first days, to be there as a resource if they need to call, if they're scared, or if it's an emergency and they just don't know what to do. And they can have somebody close by as a resource if the parent's working."

Glover said the sheriff's department has no idea how many kids might stay home alone during the summer.

One final piece of advice, kids should also have the parent's name, phone number and address memorized in case of emergency.

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