Today Your Legal Corner will discuss “What age can a child be left home alone?”
Who has not enjoyed and cherished the Macaulay Caulkin Home Alone movie series, where his parents and rest of the family are frantically flying off to some holiday vacation leaving their small child behind. Although the fictitious film is filled with numerous touching funny moments, the reality of the situation is that leaving a child who is not of legal age home alone is never a laughing matter.
Abuse and child neglect statutes
The applicable law in New Jersey that addresses children home alone falls under the abuse and neglect statutes. The definition of an abused or neglected child is defined as a child under the age of 18, whose physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as the result of the failure of the parent, guardian or other person having custody and control to exercise a minimum degree of care.
As we know, a child is required to receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical or surgical care, and proper supervision and guardianship.
Especially during the long summer months, with two income households, supervision is the attribute most at risk for potential child neglect.
Whether or not a parent can be held accountable for possible child neglect for improper supervision will be based on the totality of the circumstances. In other words, there is not a clear-cut age where a child is deemed to be independent. Rather it is a subjective test based on the specific facts of a particular situation. Age itself will not automatically determine child neglect or abuse, unless the child is of a very young age.
Alternatively, what will determine child neglect or abuse is the amount of time a child is left at home unattended, the maturity of the child and the support network in place at the time the child was left alone.
Are you leaving your 16 year old each morning for a day at the office or flying off to Russia for three months? Is there a neighbor who will regularly check in or that lives close by in case of an emergency? Again, the extent of time the child is left at home unattended and the support network in place will impact a court’s decision.
Tips to consider if your child should be left home alone or not
In fact, the New Jersey Department of Human Services warns that children should not be left home alone unless they are able to: Carry out responsibilities according to parental direction; use good judgment, confide in the parent regarding home or school, get along well with parent, get along well with siblings, and display excellent safety and first aid skills.
Should it be decided your child will be home alone this summer during parental work hours, write a set of rules and procedures. In this way, the child knows exactly what is expected of him or her. Practice role-playing as to what the child would do in certain situations. Last, it is always best to have someone close by who is able to randomly check in on the child when they are home alone.
Leaving a child home alone is not an exact science…rather it is a situation which should be decided after considering all options. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your children and if they are mature enough to be home alone.
Till next time, God bless, keep smiling, when Your Legal Corner will discuss “Penalties for controlled dangerous substances.”
Victoria M. Dalton is an attorney with the law firm of Hoffman DiMuzio.
For questions, contact Victoria at [email protected].
Please note that Your Legal Corner was created to provide educational articles about the law and is not legal advice.