When I think of a kid home alone, I picture Macaulay Culkin and his iconic expression gasping in disbelief that his parents left him home alone. Although his famous character, Kevin, was only a mere 8 years old, that seems a lifetime older than the 2-year-old Arizona boy that was left home alone by his parents.
We’ve heard of players of the now famous game getting hurt, but this is a first. A concerned neighbor called the police and when deputies arrived, they found the toddler bawling outside an unlocked house in the 96-degree heat trying to get inside the house. Local deputies found the child to be “red-faced, sweaty and dirty,” by the time they arrived and it took the parents nearly an hour to return home once they were called by police and informed about their child. The young child’s father, allegedly replied, “Whatever,” when called and told the boy was found abandoned.
Certainly a 2-year-old should never be left home alone under any circumstances, but at what age is it appropriate to leave your child home alone?
It Really Comes Down to a Simple Judgment Call
Many states offer guidelines, but only three states have specific laws on the books that have a minimum age requirement for leaving a child home alone. Illinois, for example, requires the child to be at least 14 years old, while Maryland has a mere 8-year-old minimum. Oregon, the third of the states, requires a child to be 10, while Kansas has a guideline of only 6.
However, even with these minimum requirements, many states will charge a parent with failing to provide adequate supervision for the child, neglect, and/or abandonment. Even with those state procedures, many don’t have any legal standards set defining what adequate supervision even is.
Age is one of the most common factor considered, but according to the Children’s Welfare Information Gateway, a parent should never consider age alone as a determining factor. Emotional well-being and maturity of the child seem to be the most important factors, but many states will often consider things like a child’s physical condition, the home environment, or how long the parent was absent. Even at a significantly older age, a child may not be emotionally stable enough to deal with being left home alone.
A parent should consider whether a child can obey rules, make good decisions, how a child responds to unfamiliar or stressful situations, how long the child will be alone, whether a child is able to fix a meal for themselves, whether the home is safe and free from hazards, and whether the surrounding areas and neighborhood are safe. This is certainly not an end all be all list. It’s going to depend on the situation of each child and, with an absence of law, it really comes down to a judgment call for many parents.
Legal Consequences Can Be Hefty
While parents are given wide latitude to make these decisions on their own, there’s definitely a line that can be crossed and the consequences aren’t anything to shake off. The Daleys are being charged with neglect and child endangerment, but possible jail time is just the beginning of consequences a parent could possibly face for leaving their child home alone. Have you ever heard of a little thing called CPS?
Child Protective Services is typically always notified to begin an investigation into family life when someone reports a child was inappropriately left at home. This can be a lengthy and grueling process that can end in the state taking over custody of children.
Even if a child isn’t directly taken away from their parents, courts can intervene in simple everyday decisions until the parent is deemed fit to do it on their own. Some courts may even require rehabilitative services to both children and parents. Often times, it can take months or even a year or more to regain full decision-making power in regards to your children.
Authored by Ashley Roncevic, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law