In most situations, this will be quite obvious. If a child is outside adult supervision, then the child is considered “alone.” The age of the “adult” can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, although the age range is usually between fourteen and eighteen.
Note that the child doesn’t have to be physically alone; a child can be considered “alone” even if there are other children with the child.
What Does the Law Say About Leaving Children Home Alone?
Every child will be left home alone at some point. However, how young is too young? Unfortunately, the law is vague on this point. Instead of a specific age, most state’s laws weigh the child’s maturity level, amount of time left alone, and the parent’s concern for the child’s well-being.
What Can Legally Happen If My Child Is Too Young to Stay Home Alone?
If someone reports that your children were inappropriately left at home alone, a local organization, such as Child Protective Services (CPS), will begin an investigation. The investigation will include interviews with you, the children, your neighbors, and other people who may have insight into the incident.
If the investigation finds that you have been endangering your children by leaving them alone, there is a chance that CPS will recommend that the children be removed from your custody. The children may be placed with relatives or in foster care. CPS has the authority to remove your children immediately, but any permanent removal is done through the court system. That gives you the opportunity to defend yourself in a formal setting.
In addition to having the children removed from the home, there is also a chance that criminal charges may be brought against you. Usually criminal charges are only brought in the most severe cases, but someone convicted of these crimes is subject to a lengthy prison sentence.
Could Leaving a Child Alone Be Considered Child Abandonment?
Child Abandonment is an aspect of child neglect, which is essentially the idea that a child’s wellbeing is placed in jeopardy because the parent or guardian with custody of the child is knowingly physically or emotionally ignoring the child. This includes failure to provide reasonable support to the child, such as food, or reasonable contact with the child.
Although leaving a child home alone is hardly child abandonment, leaving a child to care for him or herself should be done reasonably. Avoid leaving a child alone for long periods of time. For example, while a single evening alone may be reasonable, several weeks alone may not be.
A possible way to determine whether leaving a child alone could be seen as child abandonment is to consider the responsibilities of those who are required to report child abuse. Some professions who have contact with children on a daily basis, such as teachers, are required to report possible child abuse. If you are unsure if leaving a child alone could be abandonment, ask yourself whether a teacher or other professional would be required to report the behavior to the police.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Charged With Leaving My Child Home Alone?
If you are being investigated for leaving a child at home alone, you should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced family or criminal defense attorney can let you know your rights and responsibilities, assist you during the investigation, and begin to prepare your possible defense if needed.