When leaving a child alone becomes a crime

You may have heard about a Maryland couple who got into trouble with Child Protective Services earlier this month for letting their kids walk home alone from a park. They’re proponents of “free-range parenting,” a parenting philosophy that seeks to give children more independence. When I was a kid, there was no special name for this – we just called it "mom and dad have to work a lot."

It reminded me of another case last summer of a South Carolina mom who let her 9-year-old daughter play in a park near the McDonald’s where she worked. She temporarily lost custody of her child and went to jail. This, of course, wasn’t a parenting philosophy, but desperation because the single mother couldn’t afford child care. The mom had been letting her daughter sit inside the restaurant and play on an electronic device, but that was stolen. Was playing in the park surrounded by other kids and parents worse than playing video games all day? Or sitting at home alone?

Any reasonable parent understands infants and toddlers can’t be left at home alone. But at what age does it become OK to leave a child alone? And for how long?

There is no federal or state law in Washington regarding the age children may stay home alone or baby-sit. According to DSHS, “most authorities agree that leaving a 12-year-old alone at home for an hour or two is acceptable,” but that’s probably too young to baby-sit. In general, children under 10 shouldn’t be left alone. Some additional factors to consider here

Add your comment: