Can I Get Arrested for Leaving the Kids Home Alone?

A woman in New York was charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child after police say she left her children at home for more than a day. The oldest child was 14, the youngest 1.

In Kentucky, a pregnant woman was arrested after she left three children at home alone for less than two hours.

For parents, deciding when it’s OK to leave kids at home alone can be difficult – especially in a state like South Carolina, which doesn’t have a law specifying at what age children can be left alone.

SC has issued a non-legal guideline recommending that parents never leave children younger than 8 alone at home, and parents should take that into consideration before taking off for the weekend. Even though the law is vague, DSS will get involved and you could be facing arrest and criminal charges if your child gets hurt after being left alone.

What’s the Right Answer?

Most states don’t have laws regarding the appropriate age for children to be left alone. The ones that do can’t agree.

North Carolina says no child younger than 8 should be left alone, but Illinois says 13 is too young to be without adult supervision. Does this mean North Carolina children are more mature than their peers in Illinois?

Of course not. It just means there is no consensus on when a child is old enough to be left alone.

There is no magic age at which all humans become responsible enough to take care of themselves. I know 8-year-olds who are more mature and self-sufficient than some middle-aged men, and I know 14-year-olds who probably couldn’t go five minutes alone without burning the house down…

In the End, You Have to Decide

You know your kids better than anybody else, so ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they physically capable of caring for themselves?
  • Do they have the mental, developmental, and emotional well-being to be left alone?
  • How have they responded to other unfamiliar or stressful situations?
  • Do they know their full name? Their address and phone number?
  • Do they know the names and contact information of adult family members or friends?
  • Do they know how to lock and unlock doors?
  • Do they have an extra key or some other plan in case they get locked out?

And ask the kids a couple of questions, too:

  • Do you want to be left alone?
  • Does the idea of taking care of yourself for a little while make you afraid or uncomfortable?

If you decide to leave the kids at home, talk to your neighbors or family members. Let someone you trust know where you’re going and that your child will be alone and ask them to check in on the kids – make sure the kids have phone numbers for multiple people that can come and help if there is an emergency.

You can find more information about leaving children home alone at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/homealone.pdf. H/T Coastal Law Blog.

SC Criminal Defense in Myrtle Beach and Horry County

Daniel A. Selwa, II is a criminal defense lawyer who defends child abuse and neglect charges in Myrtle Beach, SC. If you have been charged with a crime in the Horry or Georgetown County areas, call now at (843) 492-5449 or send us a message online to set up a free consultation.

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