Thursday, April 13, 2000

About 14 percent of children age 12 and younger are latchkey kids, but they spend only about an hour home alone after school, a new study says.

The percentage is the equivalent of 3.5 million children ages 5 to 12, said Sandra L. Hofferth and Zita Jankuniene, researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

The researchers analyzed time diaries on 1,500 children ages 5 to 12 in 1997.

They found that 73 percent of children went right home after school, while 11 percent went to child care. Another 8 percent stayed at school and the rest went somewhere else, such as recreation facilities, shopping malls or their parents’ workplaces.

Overall, 14 percent of children spent time alone at home after school, Ms. Hofferth said.

The average time for a child to be unsupervised was 47 minutes for children ages 5 to 7 and an hour and 15 minutes for children ages 11 and 12.

Parents who were most likely to allow their children to be unsupervised were older or living in socially cohesive neighborhoods, where neighbors would watch out for the children, the researchers found.

Parents with high incomes were less likely to leave their children alone, they said. “The ability to afford after-school programs may play an important role in parents’ considerations,” said Ms. Hofferth.

The data, which were presented April 2 at a meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, updated other studies on latchkey children.

Previous estimates of latchkey children have ranged from 2 million to 7 million children.

The issue has become a concern because juvenile crime escalates between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., says Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a group that wants more after-school programs for children.

Other studies have shown that latchkey children are at a higher risk for substance abuse and injury than supervised children.

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