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Children Home Alone: Parents Arrested, But What's Law?

Why are parents being arrested and charged with child endangerment if there is no law in Connecticut giving a minimum age to be left alone?

today that a woman was charged with child endangerment for leaving her 7-year-old son home alone for an hour while she went to the gym.  An anonumous caller alerted police to the boy left alone and when officers responded the boy would not let them into the house. 

Police asked him to call his mother and when she returned, she was arrested.

This story comes on the heels of a that sparked a firestorm of controversy when a New Canaan woman was charged with felony risk of injury to a child after leaving her 1½-, 4- and 10-year-old in the care of her 13-year-old for half an hour until the babysitter was scheduled to arrive. Apparently, the 4-year-old got away from the older sibling and was spotted wandering in the neighbor's yard.

In the New Canaan case, a neighbor reported the children to police. Many readers (including myself) were outraged that a neighbor’s first response was not to walk the child home but to report it to authorities. Maybe it's just me and maybe it's just that I actually like my neighbors and care about their children but if I spotted a neighbor's 4-year-old in my yard, I would approach the child and take them home without question. 

The first thought to cross my mind would definitely not be to call the cops!

Not all details are provided so it’s easy to jump to conclusions based on speculation but the bottom line is a mother was arrested for a judgment call which the Connecticut Department of Children and Families says is her call to make. In fact, there is no law in the state of Connecticut that gives a minimum age for a child to be left home alone. 

Recommendations are given that say a child should be at least 12 years old to be left alone and 14 to babysit siblings but I must say again…there is no law for this which means it’s up to parents to decide if their child is responsible enough and for how long they should be left alone.

Still, due to child safety laws, it’s up to police discretion when it comes to deciding if a parent should be charged when children are reported alone, no matter what age. I don’t know about you but this sound a little like bait and switch. 

Basically, they are saying that as parents, we have a right to decide whether we think our children should be left alone or are able to babysit siblings yet they reserve the right to charge us with criminal intent if someone disagrees with our decision.

I was allowed to stay at home from the age of 10 when I walked home from school and held down the fort until my parents got home at 5. I was a responsible kid and my parents trusted me. Every child is different. Some 12-year-olds are nowhere near mature enough to be left alone and others are ready at 10. It really depends on the child.

I have a daughter who is 10½ and I enrolled her in an American Red Cross certification class called “When I’m In Charge.” The instructor gave us a lot of information about deciding whether she was ready to be left alone. And since my daughter is 10 going on 35, I don’t worry much about leaving her alone. It doesn’t happen often and when it does, its only for a few minutes at a time and I would never leave her in charge of her siblings but for us, it seems like a natural thing to do.

When she received her certificate, I made sure to take the instructor aside and ask, “are you SURE it’s OK for her to stay home alone?” I was reassured that yes indeed she was.

Now I’m starting to wonder whether or not this is even an option regardless of what’s on the state’s law books. All it would take would be a seemingly bitter neighbor to call the police and say she was home alone and I could easily be hauled off to jail.

I'm not one for thinking that government should tell me how to raise my children but perhaps in this case; for the safety of children and for the clarification for parents, a specific age should be given in a written law that states a minimum age to be left home alone. That way, there is no chance that parents can be caught in the gray area. After all, I do like to know if I'm doing something that can land me in jail with the potential of my children being removed from my custody.

I’m all for keeping our kids safe. I’m not arguing that it’s not important for parents and lawmakers alike to hold our children’s safety paramount but it seems to me that the line of parental rights is being blurred here. 

If they want to solidify their recommendations and make it illegal for me to leave my 10-year-old at home and require her to be 12 years old instead, well then, I’m good with that. I would happily abide by the law! But don’t tell me that it’s up to me to make the decision about what’s right for me and my family and then arrest me when you don’t agree with that decision.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

jane July 17, 2012 at 10:12 PM
This has nothing to do with the point of your story- but I have totally re thought leaving children at home alone at all. I was robbed a few months ago- during the day, while at work. Since that experience I've been tuned into the news reports of robberies where children are home alone. The thought of me being home alone while a robbery starts is terrifying- let alone my children. When I was robbed- the MPD told me that there were a few more "hits" that day. Seemingly more and more people I know have experienced a robbery in the past few years. Re think leaving your children home alone- it takes only a ten minute trip to get milk- for a robbery to turn into a home invasion.
Bill Maune July 18, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Very interesting subject! Alicia you bring up very good thoughts and ideas. I have two siblings older than me and two younger. Yes, I was suppervised by my elders when my mom and dad were not at home. And also when I was around ten sometimes I could not go out and play with my friends because I was home watching over my younger brother and sister. My parents taught us all at early ages to be good dependable children.
Alicia Yost July 19, 2012 at 11:26 PM
I should say, Connecticut is certainly not alone when it comes to not having a law about this on the books about this. I do know that Maryland has made age 8 the magic number.

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