When is it Okay to Leave My Child Home Alone?
Written by: Mark T. Gabriel, Esq.
In the state of New Jersey, there is no law prescribing the specific age when a minor child may be left home alone and unattended. The DCP&P Policy Manual sets forth that, “Some children may be capable of being alone for short periods of time (to enable their parent to go to the local market, convenience store, etc.) but should not be alone for long periods of time.” DCP&P Policy Manual, Volume II, Chapter A, Subchapter 5, Issuance 400, page 4. The Manual further states when screening a report of child abuse or neglect based on a report that a child is home alone without adult supervision that the screener seeks to ultimately ask questions of the reporter to determine whether the child is at risk in the absence of immediate adult supervision. Id. According to the DCP&P Policy Manual, a call screener may ask questions to a person reporting abuse and neglect based on a child being left home alone such as:
- How does the caller know that the child is alone now? Has he or she seen the child? (When was the last time he or she actually saw the child?)
- How long has the child been alone?
- How does the child feel about being alone? Is the child afraid or in distress at being alone?
- Can the caller visit/call/stay with the child now, to ensure his, her, or their safety until DCP&P intervenes?
- What are the age, abilities, judgment, general health and developmental level of the child (or oldest child present in the home)? Is it reasonable to expect that a child fitting that description is capable of providing adequate care for him or herself and younger children for a limited period of time while a parent is out?
- Does the child know how and where to contact the parent, if necessary? Does the child know to call a neighbor, adult friend, a relative or the local police, if necessary, in the absence of the parent? Is there a home telephone in working order? A cellular phone or hand held device?
- How many children are in the home at present, without adult supervision? (If there are several young children in the home, the level of risk may be heightened.)
- When did the parent(s)/caregiver leave the home (i.e., how long has the child been alone?), and when is the parent(s) expected to return?
- Is there food available? Has the child eaten?
- Is it now daylight or night time? How may this impact on the child?
- What are the physical conditions in the home? May the conditions present risk to the child in the absence of immediate parental/adult supervision?
- What is the child doing now? (E.g., is the child acting wildly and placing him or herself at risk of injury? Are children fighting? Or, is the child watching television, the children have been put to bed and are asleep, all is calm in the home?)
- How often is the child left alone at home? Why? Is there a pattern? Is there a logical reason (e.g., a parent works)? Are there other issues associated with this practice (e.g., is the act of “babysitting” on a regular basis keeping the oldest child from doing other, age appropriate activities?) Is child care a service needed by the family?
Basically, the questions above are directed at determining whether a child or children are in any type of immediate danger from being left without adult supervision. Although there is no set age determining whether a child will be safe if left without adult supervision, the questions outlined in the DCP&P Policy Manual reflect that a parent should also utilize common sense to determine whether his or her child or children would be in immediate danger if left unattended for a certain period of time. Enacting a law to determine when a child is permitted to be left home alone would likely be problematic because of the fact that all children are different and reach different levels of maturity at different ages. If there is a question as to whether you should leave your child home alone unattended, sound practice would be to err on the side of caution and only leave a child home alone when there is no question that a child will not be placed in immediate danger if left unattended without adult supervision.
If you or someone you know has questions about the appropriate age to leave a child unattended or has been contacted by DCP&P regarding this issue then call the skilled lawyers at Lyons & Associates, at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. The attorneys at Lyons & Associates, P.C., are experienced with the all facets of DCP&P litigation and will be able to guide litigants through this process and will provide appropriate and valuable advice in the State of New Jersey.