Is there a law about home alone?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 1, 2009 06:00 AM

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Last week's entry about leaving children home alone prompted a bunch of of similar questions. Here are some answers.

Question: Is it legal for me to leave my child home alone? He is 10. I don't want DSS coming after us!

From: Laura, Boston

Question: Can my daughter who is 11 years old, stay home alone for about 2 hours with my 2 year old daughter? And is it legal issue?

From: Angie, Los Angeles

Dear Laura & Angie,

Most states, including Mass & Ca., do not have laws about the age at which a child can be left at home. Here's the most up-to-date listing I could find, state-by-state.

As far as sibs caring for sibs, I would not leave an 11-year-old in charge of a 2-year-old, not even a very mature 11. Too many things that can go wrong, too many reasons for regret. I'm quoting from my own book to answer this:

"In studies where latchkey children have been asked about problems they have, the most frequently reported difficulties revolve around siblings. Siblings who get along well and are respectful of each other probably will do fine alone together, but this is a slippery slope that needs careful examination and constant monitoring. Just because a 12-year-old is ready to be home alone doesn't mean he's ready to be home alone and responsible for one or two younger siblings. When siblings are close in age, leaving one in charge of the other often backfires. Jealousies flare, fights erupt. Better to put each child in charge of him- or herself but working as a team, so that each has an individual schedule to follow on his own. One child might be in charge of snacks, the other, in charge of walking the dog. Success often depends on how well you are able to anticipate and talk in advance about areas that will get them into friction...."


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5 comments so far...
  1. What would you do if neighbors who have a new born, approx 2 months old, nine times out of ten, just cradling the baby in their arms/lap when going out in their car? I've seen this at least 10 times now and I fear for the child's well being if there were an accident or the car had to stop short for some reason.

    Posted by Joan Cirino July 1, 09 11:12 AM
  1. When I was 11, I started watching my 1-yr old brother. It was mostly just a couple hours (between the time my mom started work and dad got home) and then evolved into a few hours while mom and dad went out to dinner. We lived in a very safe, small town in Kansas at the time, so maybe that had something to do with it, but I don't see why an 11 year old can't watch a 2 year old. Start off slow - leave her in charge while you go grocery shopping during the day, or run some errands. Yes, things can go wrong, but they can go wrong while you're there too. If your nervous about it, have her take a babysitting course - I took one at the local hospital when I was young, and it covered the basics of first aid, CPR

    Posted by giveitatry July 2, 09 12:30 PM
  1. Joan,
    Maybe they can't afford a car seat or don't realize that one minor rear-end collision would send that baby through the window at 30-60+ mph. If I could, I would leave an anonymous note, on the car, with an article printed from the internet regarding the dangers. If money might be issue, include a list of some programs that provide free car-seats to income eligible families. If they don't change their practices within a day or two, I would call the Dept of Children and Families (DSS). If you say something to them you are likely to embarrass them and/or invoke ill will(I've had this happen to me). DCF can check with them and let them know that this is not acceptable.

    Posted by wg67 July 2, 09 04:02 PM
  1. Good grief -- do you really know anything about the DCF/DSS??? The DCF doesn't check on families. It obliterates them. Please, please, please do not advise people to call the DCF to "check" on a family unless you know for sure that the family needs to be split up forever. The DCF has no financial incentive to keep families intact, and many, many, many cash-based reasons to litigate for permanent separation. Just because we might invite ill-will for saying something to a neighbor does not mean that it's a great alternative to invite the DCF into another's family venue. The DCF will not keep separated children any safer than if these children remain with the families we dislike, which has been proven statistically - in fact, the children will be placed in greatly more danger.

    Posted by Susan Jackson July 8, 09 10:37 AM
  1. Wow, wow, wow--Susan. I don't know what your experience with DCF has been but mine has been 20 years professionally with collateral agencies. I have been present at Care and Protection hearings. I have seen DSS help many children and families. DSS certainly does a lot of damage but what you have stated here about the predominance of separating families permanently is UTTER hogwash. "Proven statistically"? Let's see that statistic. I'm sorry about whatever happened to you and your family but you should not speak so broadly about things with which you have so little experience.

    Posted by wg67 July 11, 09 09:44 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. What would you do if neighbors who have a new born, approx 2 months old, nine times out of ten, just cradling the baby in their arms/lap when going out in their car? I've seen this at least 10 times now and I fear for the child's well being if there were an accident or the car had to stop short for some reason.

    Posted by Joan Cirino July 1, 09 11:12 AM
  1. When I was 11, I started watching my 1-yr old brother. It was mostly just a couple hours (between the time my mom started work and dad got home) and then evolved into a few hours while mom and dad went out to dinner. We lived in a very safe, small town in Kansas at the time, so maybe that had something to do with it, but I don't see why an 11 year old can't watch a 2 year old. Start off slow - leave her in charge while you go grocery shopping during the day, or run some errands. Yes, things can go wrong, but they can go wrong while you're there too. If your nervous about it, have her take a babysitting course - I took one at the local hospital when I was young, and it covered the basics of first aid, CPR

    Posted by giveitatry July 2, 09 12:30 PM
  1. Joan,
    Maybe they can't afford a car seat or don't realize that one minor rear-end collision would send that baby through the window at 30-60+ mph. If I could, I would leave an anonymous note, on the car, with an article printed from the internet regarding the dangers. If money might be issue, include a list of some programs that provide free car-seats to income eligible families. If they don't change their practices within a day or two, I would call the Dept of Children and Families (DSS). If you say something to them you are likely to embarrass them and/or invoke ill will(I've had this happen to me). DCF can check with them and let them know that this is not acceptable.

    Posted by wg67 July 2, 09 04:02 PM
  1. Good grief -- do you really know anything about the DCF/DSS??? The DCF doesn't check on families. It obliterates them. Please, please, please do not advise people to call the DCF to "check" on a family unless you know for sure that the family needs to be split up forever. The DCF has no financial incentive to keep families intact, and many, many, many cash-based reasons to litigate for permanent separation. Just because we might invite ill-will for saying something to a neighbor does not mean that it's a great alternative to invite the DCF into another's family venue. The DCF will not keep separated children any safer than if these children remain with the families we dislike, which has been proven statistically - in fact, the children will be placed in greatly more danger.

    Posted by Susan Jackson July 8, 09 10:37 AM
  1. Wow, wow, wow--Susan. I don't know what your experience with DCF has been but mine has been 20 years professionally with collateral agencies. I have been present at Care and Protection hearings. I have seen DSS help many children and families. DSS certainly does a lot of damage but what you have stated here about the predominance of separating families permanently is UTTER hogwash. "Proven statistically"? Let's see that statistic. I'm sorry about whatever happened to you and your family but you should not speak so broadly about things with which you have so little experience.

    Posted by wg67 July 11, 09 09:44 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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