Can your child be legally left at home without a babysitter or other supervision?
Well, that depends.
Only a small number of states have specific statewide laws on the subject. Most do not.
Normally, the absence of a law on a subject affecting parental rights is a good thing. It means that the decision is left to you as a parent.
However, that is not the case here.
In this case, every state does have a law that generally defines what child neglect is; and those definitions frequently include the failure of a parent to provide needed supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.¹ Unfortunately, this is very vague.
The vagueness of that definition means that parents in most states are left to wonder whether leaving their child home alone would be considered inadequate supervision by child protective services (CPS) or law enforcement.
Fortunately (or not), many states without a specific provision do provide guidelines which imply when leaving a child at home unsupervised is generally presumed to be reasonable or unreasonable. Still, even these presumptions are subject to a number of factors, including the maturity level of a child, to what extent a child is prepared for emergencies, what time of day the child is left alone, how long a parent is gone, or how far away a parent is from the child.
This means that in most states there is no clear answer to our question. Consequently, although we are here to defend our member families against false accusations of abuse or neglect, ultimately you as the parent have to be the one to decide what is best for your children after taking into account your own unique circumstances.
To help you make that determination, we created a map of all 50 states (including the District of Columbia) and a summary of each state’s law or guideline. If you have trouble navigating the map, a table is included below it.
Map Key: Red: State has a law; Yellow: State has guideline; Green: No specific statewide law. The darker the shading on the map, the more restrictive the law or guideline.
Disclaimer: The information provided in the map, table, or this post is not a substitute for legal advice.
Remember that the summaries provided are just that–summaries. To read the actual text of the law, please look up the citation for your state’s law (if it has one), which is included on the map and the table. Please be aware that cities and other municipalities may have even more restrictive laws than those provided by the state, so be sure to check.
If you do leave your children at home, we encourage you to take your state’s laws and guidelines into account. Many state guidelines also encourage parents to establish rules and safety guidelines and to conduct informal drills so your children know how to take care of themselves and stay safe in your absence.
If you are a member of Heritage Defense and have a question about specific details about the law in your state, please contact us.
If you are not yet a member, please join today to have 24/7 access to experienced, Christian attorneys ready to defend your family.
¹Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Welfare Information Gateway