A higher percentage of Minnesota children ages 6 to 12 are home alone while their parents work than kids in the rest of the country, according to a new study.
The study was conducted by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization in Washington. The results are based on a 1997 survey of 44,000 families nationally.
Research found that 17 percent of 6- to 9-year-olds and 56 percent of 10- to 12-year-olds in Minnesota regularly are without adult supervision when they are not in school, compared with 10 percent and 35 percent of those age groups, respectively, nationwide.
The findings cause concern because studies have found that children left to care for themselves are at greater risk for injury, emotional harm and poor social, physical and intellectual development.
Minnesota's high rankings in the home-alone study could reflect the percentage of working mothers in the state, which is among the country's highest, child-care advocates said.
"It's not acceptable that there are that many kids fending for themselves," said Diane Benjamin, of the Children's Defense Fund in St. Paul. "Parents are between a rock and a hard place. They hold their breath and hope for the best. It is a quiet problem; until a tragedy happens, it's not addressed."
The study does not address why children are left unsupervised, but the authors said they would study that point in future research. Jeffrey Capizzano, one of the study's authors, said parents consider such factors as a child's maturity and neighborhood security in deciding whether to leave a child alone.
"We're looking forward to doing more research to explain these differences," Capizzano said. "Minnesota is a high-income, white, rural state. Is that why we're seeing the numbers the way they are or not?"
The study found that higher-income parents nationally were more likely to leave 10- to 12-year-old children at home, but trouble awaits even in neighborhoods that appear safe, said Nancy Johnson, director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Network, a private, nonprofit agency.
"If the parents live in a nice neighborhood and figure the kids are safe, are they really thinking through what they might be exposed to when you're not around, if they're around other kids who are into drugs and alcohol or whatever?" she said.
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