The issue of when a child may be left home alone is a serious matter with which every parent must grapple. The question must ultimately be decided on an individualized basis for each child using parental discretion. It certainly is not an issue that should be dictated by the government. Thankfully, only 4 states have laws specifying the age at which a child may be left unsupervised or “home alone.”
Though most states do not have specific laws, social service agencies in a number of individual states have issued guidance on the subject. Some states recommend a specific age and length of time for leaving children home alone. Others do not list a specific age but do include certain factors such as the child’s maturity and the amount of time spent alone as factors that should be considered before leaving a child unsupervised. While these are not laws, they can be the basis for a report, investigation, or even a court’s decision, so parents should stay aware of their state’s guidelines.
Even though most states do not have a specific law or guideline specifying when a child is old enough to be left alone, many of the neglect, abuse, abandonment, or child endangerment statutes in these states could be applicable. Many of these laws, especially those dealing with child neglect, list a number of factors or situations that could constitute neglect. Supervision is often listed among them. Parental failure to provide adequate or necessary supervision is considered neglect. Of course, how much and what kind of supervision is sufficiently “adequate” or “necessary” is an unanswered question. Some states make risk of or actual harm to the child an element to proving neglect or for bringing an action for abuse.
In addition to baseline neglect and abuse laws, in our law and policy overview, we have included references to abandonment laws in several states. While informative, abandonment generally requires intent to abandon or the failure to provide for the child’s needs for weeks or months–a time period obviously much longer than the average grocery run. Endangerment likewise involves substantial risk of harm and is also less relevant to this issue.
In light of all this, we recommend that parents exercise caution and that you carefully evaluate your child’s maturity, training, access to help, and other circumstances under which you will leave them home unsupervised. The federal government’s Children’s Bureau provides a factsheet for families with factors to consider before leaving your child home alone. Because this factsheet could be the basis used by child protective services, and because there are a number of helpful items for consideration on the list, we encourage parents to review it before making these kinds of decisions for your own children.
If you are a member, we encourage you to examine our law and policy page to learn how your state handles children being left home alone.
If you are a member of Heritage Defense and still have questions after reviewing our Law & Policy page about Home Alone, please contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.
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