I’m a mom and, like most moms, I’m annoyingly over-informed – but here’s a very simple question I’ve never asked: At what age is it legally OK to leave a child at home unattended?
– Call Me Cuckoo
Dear Macaulay Culkin,
According to the National Child Care Information Center (NCCIC) – which is a branch of the U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services but that doesn’t stop their logo from fortuitously resembling a banana peel,
the majority of states do not have any specific laws detailing the age in which a child can remain home alone. The two states that do have laws detailing the age in which a child can remain home alone are Illinois and Maryland – which is a big reason my parents reared their children in Pennsylvania.
The Illinois law focuses on the neglected minor, which they define as:
Juvenile Court Act, 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(d)
Unreasonable Period of Time to leave a kid? Some would say the length of a feature movie is an unreasonable period of time. While others would argue that enrolling in a Tractor-Trailer Driving Academy five states away from your husband and kids constitutes an unreasonable period of time. Due to this gaping manhole of interpretation, Illinois urges its citizens to consider the following things before determining when to leave the child unattended:
- The child should indicate a desire to stay alone.
- The child should accept responsibility and be making decisions independently.
- The child should be getting ready for school on time and solving problems on their own and completing homework and household chores with a minimum of supervision.
- The child should be able to clearly communicate about events, interests, and concerns.
- The child should know what to do when locked out, what to do in an electrical storm, what to do when inappropriately touched by a stranger, and how to fix the paddle attachment of the Kitchen Aid.
- The child should know basic First Aid and when to call for help.
In short, the appropriate age to leave a child unattended in Illinois is thirty-one.
The Maryland law is more to the point:
Let’s review: 8, 13, 5-801, 30, 500, locked enclosure.
It’s confusing – sure – but upon a reread it may be worth the $500 fine because Bossy has spent at least that on a babysitter.
The 48 remaining states may not have laws, but most have guidelines and recommendations. For instance Dakota considers other factors when contemplating Child Neglect, such as if the unattended child is using a stove, or an iron, or is in fact married to the alcoholic first cousin of her new step-dad. That’s Dakota.
But in terms of finding out the guidelines and recommendations in your fine state, simply contact the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect. Which leaves Bossy with one over-informed question of her own: There’s a National Clearinghouse for Child Abuse and Neglect? Do they give away money, magazines, or children?