A parent who leaves a child home alone before he is ready may face charges of neglect in Pennsylvania. Although Pennsylvania doesn't have a set minimum age at which it's legal for children to be left home alone, a parent is still responsible for knowing when her child may be safely left home without supervision. A young babysitter must be able to handle the responsibility of the child as well.
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The countrywide "SAFEKIDS" campaign recommends never leaving a child below 12 home alone. The official website of Erie County, Pennsylvania, recommends never leaving a child under 10 home alone. Parents must decide for themselves whether a child can be left home alone, rather than decide strictly by age, according to the U.S. Administration for Children & Families. Parents should consider how safe their neighborhood is when making the decision.
Age of Babysitters
Pennsylvania law doesn't set a minimum age for babysitters, either. Some factors must be considered when selecting a younger babysitter, according to the official website of Erie County, Pennsylvania. Areas to consider include the maturity and level of responsibility the babysitter displays, and the ages and number of the children she's watching and for how long, and whether any of the children in her care have special needs or conditions. A younger babysitter should be able to reach an adult easily in case of an emergency.
A parent should consider how mature and responsible a child is before leaving him home alone, even if he's above the age of 12. A child must be mature enough and able to handle being home alone safely. For example, a child of 11 who respects rules and has the maturity to handle calling emergency services if necessary may be safety left home alone for short periods. A child of 13 who doesn't have the same maturity level and often breaks rules may be not able to stay home alone without endangering himself. Regardless of maturity level, a child home alone should have easy access to an adult nearby for help at all times.
Because state laws don't set a minimum age, whether a child being left alone constitutes "neglect" depends on the circumstances of the case. If a parent leaves a child home alone who she knows isn't mature or responsible enough to handle the situation, she may be charged with neglect if something happens to the child. The state considers different factors when deciding whether a parent who left a child home alone should be charged with neglect. These factors include previous cases of neglect under similar circumstances, whether a babysitter was involved and how long the children were unsupervised. Neglect may constitute a misdemeanor or felony in Pennsylvania, depending on the case.
References & Resources
- Erie County, Pennsylvania: Frequently Asked Questions
- Latchkey.kids.com: Legal Age Restrictions for Latchkey Kids
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: 'Home Alone' Neglect Laws Vague
- York County Children & Youth Services: At What Age Can I Leave My Child Home Alone?
- U.S. Administration for Children & Families: Leaving Your Child Home Alone
- Onecle: Endangering Welfare of Children - 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4304
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