September 17, 2015 4:25 pm
Updated: September 18, 2015 2:01 am

B.C. judge rules 8-year-old can’t stay home alone

The case of a Terrace mother has re-ignited an emotional debate over how old kids should be before they can be left home alone. Nadia Stewart reports.

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A B.C. judge has ruled that it was not OK for a mother to leave her eight-year-old home alone, even if it is for a few hours after school.

In early January, 2014, it came to the attention of child and family services that the child was home alone between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. after school each weekday.

The mother and father were separated and the mother had placed her four-year-old in daycare while she was at work.

A social worker visited the home and told the mother that a child under the age of 10 could not be left alone. She asked the mom to agree to a safety plan, and when the mom refused, the social worker asked to speak to the child. But that was refused as well.

A provincial court judge in Terrace had ruled previously that the mother must ensure her son is supervised at all times, but the mom appealed that decision. However, she has now lost that appeal.

WATCH: What age is appropriate for leaving kids at home alone? Parenting expert Andrea Vance weighs in on the debate.

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The social worker gave evidence at the presentation hearing, saying that in her opinion, “children who are eight years of age do not have the cognitive ability to be left unsupervised”, citing various risks, including accidental poisoning or fires which could arise regardless of [the child’s] maturity.”

She did not agree that some children who are eight or nine would be capable of staying home alone. On that evidence the judge accepted that children under the age of 10 could not be safely left alone and that the child in this case required protection that could be effected by a supervision order.

The Ministry of Children and Families says there is no specific federal or provincial legislation on the age a child is allowed to be home alone. However, the ministry uses 12 years of age as a general guideline. Each investigation is case specific and the capacity and maturity of the child is taken under consideration.

According to Legal Aid BC, if your child is between 10 and 12 years old you should consider how mature your child is, if there are responsible adults nearby, where your child will be and when, and how much they have to do before they should be left home alone.

Each provincial Child and Family Services Society has different parameters in what is reasonable for a child to be left unattended and those range in ages between 10 and 12 across Canada.

The mother in this case argued that the social worker cannot impose a minimum age requirement that is not reflected in the Child, Family and Community Service Act. She said the first judge should not have accepted the social worker’s evidence that being left alone after school endangered her eight-year-old child.

However, the judge said that just because the legislature may have chosen not to set an age, that does not mean the trained social worker cannot, based on reasonable principles, set an age limit themselves.

“The social workers have a statutory duty to be truthful, to be honest, to be complete and to do their very best,” the judge stated. “It would be inappropriate on a case-by-case basis to go behind their motives. I must assume the information that I have is at least believed by the social worker.”

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