When Is Leaving a Child at Home Alone Illegal?

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When Can You Leave a Child at Home Alone?

Most States have laws that state the age that a child can be left home alone without adult supervision. Most states have guidelines with the Department of Health and Human Services or other child protective agencies that determines whether a child can be left alone. Factors may include the child's age and maturity, the safety of the home and area where child will be, and other arrangements made by the parents to secure the child's safety.

Below are guidelines to follow when considering the age range for leaving a child home alone:

Ages 7 & under - Children at this age should not be left alone for any period and this will include leaving children unattended in cars, children playgrounds, and other play areas that could be a risk.

Ages 8 to 10 years – Children at this age should not be left alone for more than 1 and half hours and only during daylight and evening hours. Children could not be left overnight

Ages 11 to 12 years - May be left alone for up to 3 hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.

Ages 13 to 15 years – Children at this age can be left unattended and unsupervised, but the children cannot be left alone overnight.

Ages 16 to 17 years – Children at this age can be left unsupervised.

When Is Leaving a Child at Home Alone Illegal?

Every parent occasionally must decide if it is appropriate to leave a child at home alone. Depending on state law and child protective policies, leaving a child at home alone could be considered child neglect and have major consequences. For this reason, it is important to understand when it is considered legally acceptable to leave a child at home alone.

What Does State Law Say About Leaving a Child Home Alone?

Most state laws are vague on the subject. Surprisingly, only two states have laws specifying the minimum age a child must be to be left at home alone. In Maryland, a kid must be at least 8 years old and in Illinois, a kid must be at least 14 years old.

Instead of establishing a minimum age, the rest of the states weigh several factors to determine when leaving a child alone is legal. The major factors include:

What Are the Consequences for Leaving Your Child Home Alone?

If someone reports that your children were inappropriately left at home alone and your children were too young to be left 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, there is a chance that CPS recommends that your children be removed from your custody. The children may be placed with relatives or in foster care.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have questions about the legality of leaving your child at home alone, you should contact your state’s branch of Child Protective Services. Another option is to consult with a family lawyer. An experienced attorney can let you know how cases are handled in your state and advise you of your rights and responsibilities.

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Last Modified: 11-21-2016 10:44 PM PST

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