By Kelly Youngblood
Editor’s Note: For our post on May 5, 2016 about proposed IL legislation addressing this topic with potential changes to IL law, click here.
Are you at that stage of parenthood where you’re wondering if it’s OK to leave your kid(s) home alone for brief periods of time?
My oldest will be turning 9 this month and has expressed to me that he’d much rather stay home alone while I run to the store, post office, or pretty much anywhere that doesn’t serve ice cream.
So this has me thinking: Is it even legal for me to leave him home alone for brief periods of time, so as not to torture him with the pain and suffering inflicted by trips to the grocery store?
While the answer isn’t as clear cut as I would like, I did find out what would probably be OK and what might raise some red flags in my neighborhood.
Andrew Flach is the deputy director of the Office of Communications for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Flach says the decision to leave a child home alone is a gray area.
Simply put, there is no legal age in Illinois to leave a child unsupervised at home. Parents are just supposed to use their best judgment.
“When it comes to deciding when it ok to leave your child home alone there just isn’t a magic age. So we tell everyone it’s up to parents to consider the risks involved and then determine on a case-by-case basis if their child or children has the maturity and good sense needed to stay alone,” Flach said.
Illinois law says child abandonment (which is punishable by 1-3 years in prison) is leaving a child under 13 alone, without a responsible person over 14, for 24 hours or more “while ignoring that child’s mental or physical health, safety, or well-being.”
Child welfare laws define child neglect as leaving a minor under 14 years of age “without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor.”
The major factor in both the criminal law and child welfare law is the duration of time a child is left home unsupervised.
So it’s up to us parents to decide whether our child is safe to stay home alone? Apparently, the answer is yes. But there are definite guidelines that parents need to be following.
Illinois law lists 15 specific factors to be considered when deciding whether a child has been left alone for an unreasonable period of time.
“All of these factors would come into play before we would ever consider temporarily removing a child or investigating the family,” Flach said.
Flach said some of those factors include:
- the maturity of the child
- how long the child was left alone
- what were the conditions the child was left in
- what were the weather conditions
- what time of day was it
- did the child know where the parents were, when they would be home, and how to reach them
- did the child know what to do in case of a fire or any other emergency
- were there weapons easily accessible in the home.
“There’s a lot of things at play when thinking about this and it’s not just this magic age. There’s a lot of factors and there’s just not any clear answers,” Flach said.
DCFS recommends establishing a trial period after your child has acquired the skills and knowledge required to stay alone to see how it goes. If the arrangement is successful, they still encourage parents to continually review house rules and safety information with their children.
DCFS has some great information here on what you need to know to prepare your child to stay home alone.