March 31, 2008

CHILDREN LEFT HOME ALONE (or in cars alone)


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(or in cars alone)

This post raises many questions about child safety, as does another issue: children “left” alone in cars. Recently a mother left a sleeping child in a car, within her sight, while she took two older children to drop coins in a nearby Salvation Army kettle. The article related that moments later she was arrested and the focus of a police investigation and a state child welfare agency. Bloggers apparently are debating whether she was negligent or whether the police overstepped their bounds. What do you think? Leave your comments below.,2933,337012,00.html

Five Pittsburgh children ages 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 died in a 1:30 a.m. fire recently.

Two 8-year olds survived. There was no adult in the home at the time of the fire, allegedly caused by children playing with matches.

The two mothers involved, who were out for the evening, are facing manslaughter charges.

The tragedy raises many questions.

Were the parents responsible for the tragedy? The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the lawyer for one of the mothers, Shakita Mangham, sees no “causal negligence.” He attributes the tragedy to the fact that “Everybody sometimes screws up in life, and this was a big screw-up.”

Alas, I must say, it is greater than a “big screw-up.” It’s totally irresponsible to leave seven children, the oldest eight years old, in a home alone.

As a former director of a state-licensed family day care home, I must say I never considered leaving any of my charges in that age group “home alone.” They have yet to develop coping mechanisms for emergencies.

Assistant District Attorney Laura Ditka stated: “You don’t have to actually light the match to be responsible. There was no one there to protect the children from any number of dangers, including fire, which is ultimately what happened.”

The second question, then, is: At what age can a child be left home alone? Although resources state it’s determined not by age but by maturity, the Fairfax County, Virginia ( guidelines suggest children “seven and under should not be left alone for any period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and backyards.” Speaking as an adult who cared for up to eight preschool children at a time and trained babysitters and family day care home operators, children eight years old are certainly not qualified to care for five children younger than they are.

(The age guidelines continue: Children 8-10 years old should not be left alone for more than 1 ½ hours and only during daylight and early evening hours; children 11-12 years old may be left alone for up to three hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility; children 13-15 years old may be left unsupervised, but not overnight; and children 16-17 years old may be left unsupervised for up to two consecutive overnight periods.)

The third question: How do you determine whether a child is capable of being left home alone? Fairfax County, Virginia, guidelines suggest the following: the child must not have emotional, medical, or behavioral problems that affect their judgment or decision-making skills and must be comfortable being alone.

The parent/caretaker must have a safety/emergency plan designed for the child, which includes: how to access parent or other responsible adult at all times (including knowledge of the parent/caretaker’s whereabouts and knowing a telephone number to reach the parent); guidelines for acceptable behavior; knowledge of what to do in case of emergency and knowledge of emergency telephone numbers. The child must demonstrate the ability to follow the safety plan and to make decisions that reflect concern for personal safety.

Other questions need to be asked. For example, what is the community responsibility when it comes to family support? How many children of a vulnerable age are left alone because their parents have no other recourse in providing food and rent, or because their parents want to have recreation of some sort? What can neighbors, who witness irresponsible parental behavior, do, especially if the human service system doesn’t respond? And what role can religious organizations play in the safety of the children under their care and in their neighborhoods?

Share your opinion below. Thank you.

Note: I operated a state licensed Family Day Care Home for ten years, and trained family day care home directors under a Small Town Emphasis Program grant, and was certified to teach teenage babysitters through the Red Cross.

Other posts on child abuse: THE WELL-ADJUSTED CHILD and




Characteristics of and lures used by child molesters

Characteristics of and lures used by child molesters

Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath

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  1. Please contact me, my ex is leaving my kids for 7 days over night they are 17 years old, is this legal. what can I do about this??

    Please help me

    Comment by jacqui — February 16, 2009 @ 11:25 pm | Reply

  2. To know the law in your state, use the search engine, perhaps “leaving children alone in (your state name).” This is a first step. Then you have to look at how responsible the children are, are there back-ups for them (both known and unknown, perhaps). Any suggestions or ideas from other readers?

    Comment by carolyncholland — February 16, 2009 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

  3. Well…..I agree with most of the things you said. Anyway, thanks!

    Comment by Jeramia McCloud — May 13, 2009 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  4. Like most parents, we often think when we should begin to leave our kids at home alone. I must say it depends on their ages, as mother of two kids, which are 15 and 9 years old I always leave them home alone because my work is on the night shift. However, I don’t have worries because they are responsible enough to handle emergency situations.

    Comment by MaileySmith — October 7, 2011 @ 6:30 am | Reply

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