Tag Archives: home alone

How Old Does a Child Need to be Before They Are Left Alone (or Trick-or-Treat)?

  • Most state laws are unclear how old your child needs to be before they can be left alone

A few months ago, Florida mom Nicole Gainey was arrested for child neglect. Her offense: letting her seven-year-old walk a half-mile to the park by himself. The arresting officer noted that there were several convicted sex offenders living in the area. However, in Florida, most sex offenders are prohibited by law from living within 1,000 feet of a park. A search of Florida’s sex offender registry list only one registered offender within a half-mile of the park, in the other direction. That man is not designated as a predator and his offense occurred way back in 1993.

Nicole Gainey and her Son

Nicole Gainey and her Son

Additionally, it was during daytime hours, and Ms. Gainey had given her son a cell phone, that she would call to check up on him. Also, she trained him well, because when he was approached by a concerned citizen at the pool, he became concerned and went ran away. Mom had just checked in with him a few moments before police arrived.

There is no clear law in Florida about how old a child has to be before they are allowed to go to the park alone, or be left home alone, or anything like that. Indeed, most states don’t have such laws, and those that do, vary greatly from state to state, from 6 to 14. That leaves the law open to interpretation: legal a prosecutor could file charges if they felt there was a risk to the child that amounts to neglect. Conversely, it will be hard to win a conviction, as many people on the jury are likely to say, “Shoot, my mom left me home sometimes… and I don’t think she should have gone to jail.”

Arguably, the law leaves a lot of discretion to parents to determine when their children are mature enough to stay alone, and for how long. Parents probably should not be prosecuted, except in cases of clear risk to the children. And an officer should not immediately make a felony arrest in such a situation, he should first refer it to the Dept. of Children and Families for further investigation by specialists to determine if charges are warranted. Unlike a theft or a DUI, this is probably not a judgment call an officer should be making on his own in the field without having a child-care professional weigh in.

This doesn’t tell us how old a child must be to go, say, trick-or-treating by himself or herself (or with friends). The rule of thumb should be to use common sense. The realty of our risk-averse law enforcement system is that a nervous cop could jump the gun and make an unwarranted arrest: so you are better safe than sorry and ought make sure the kids have a chaperon tomorrow night.

The case did end well for Ms. Gainey, the Port St. Lucie Clerk’s records indicate the charges were dropped by prosecutors. That does not spare Ms. Gainey the expense of posting a bond and seeking legal representation, not to mention the degradation of being booked into jail for child neglect and having her name dragged through the mud. For anyone who is arrested for such a charge, seek representation right away, so you can have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to convince prosecutors charges are not warranted.

from latchkey-kids.com via http://lifehacker.com/the-age-kids-have-to-be-before-you-can-legally-leave-th-1652321850?utm_source=recirculation&utm_medium=recirculation&utm_campaign=wednesdayPM

 

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