How young is too young to leave kids alone at home?
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.
“Eight is too young in my opinion,” said Gurinder Bains, a lawyer who deals often with family law.
The question of how old the child can be was the focus of a recent appeal before B.C.’s Supreme Court.
The case involves a mother, her eight-year-old son and child and family services.
A social worker learned the boy, referred to in court documents as A.K., would spend about two hours at home alone until his mother returned from work.
This week, a Supreme Court judge dismissed the mother’s appeal, agreeing with the provincial court’s ruling and with the social worker who said that, in her opinion, “children who are eight years of age do not have the cognitive ability to be left unsupervised.” The social worker pointed to various risks, including accidental poisoning or fires, which could arise “regardless of a child’s level of maturity.”
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.
“Surprisingly, there is no legislation in B.C. that sets out the minimum age requirement to leave a child at home alone,”said Bains.
In Manitoba and New Brunswick, that age is set at 12, but in Ontario, kids younger than 16 are not allowed to be left alone without some kind of reasonable supervision.
The City of Vancouver offers classes to children at least 10 years old, but younger than 16, to prepare them to be home alone and know how to respond to medical emergencies.
The program is being offered at Champlain and Killarney Community Centres this fall. A spokesperson said the program is consistent with the program offered by the Canada Safety Council and the Red Cross, which offer training to youth beginning at ages 10 and 11.
Andrea Vance from West Coast Families said “it’s one of those things we talked about when we were growing up that there was always an unspoken, or I guess an unwritten rule, that 10 years old was OK to stay on your own and 12 years old to babysit, but what we’re realizing is there was nothing written or legal that gave those ages. It was just a standard we lived by.”
“But there is no hard-fast rule, it’s up to every parent to judge their own situation individually.”
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