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How Old Is Old Enough to Be Home Alone?

Posted September 28, 2007
Updated September 29, 2007

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— When an overnight fire killed four children, ages 3 to 11, who were at home alone in Scotland County, it was, in many people's opinions, a tragedy.

But deciding whether to file charges against the mother who left them home alone is complicated, officials say, even though police, prosecutors and judges often confront that decision.

No charges have been filed in the Scotland case.

"I think it's the most difficult (to make a decision) when children are 10, 11, 12," said Durham County Family Court Judge Marcia Morey.

As a Family Court judge, Morey said she understands the struggle.

Because there is no state law outlining when children can be left home alone, judges and social workers must make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

"We look at the age of the child, the maturity of the child, how long they will be home alone and if they have any care responsibilities," said Denise Boyette with the Johnston County Department of Social Services.

"It's the facts of that individual case and what steps a parent has made to make sure there is adequate contact and supervision to keep those children safe" that influence the decision, Morey said.

For example, prosecutors never considered charges against the parents of 12-year-old Emily Haddock, who was home alone when she was shot and killed during a robbery attempt last week.

They said she was mature enough to stay home alone during the day and that other family members lived nearby.

Morey said discerning criminal neglect within a tragedy is often a tough call.

"I don't think you can ever say 'always' and never say 'never,'" she said.

There is one North Carolina law against leaving children under 8 years old exposed to a fire danger, but it is not specific beyond that.

Fort Bragg is the only North Carolina community WRAL could find with detailed rules about when a child can be left home alone. Under the rules, children under 10 require direct supervision, 11-year-olds can have monitored supervision for up to two hours. At age 12, children can be home alone for up to three hours.

The policy, however, does not specify the penalty for violating the rules.

109 Comments

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  • notaproblem Oct 1, 2007

    Discipline, respect, morals, values, self-responsibility, pride, love, etc.... These things are the responsibility of parents, not the school, not the church, not the neighbors, not the grandparents... Start these these things at home. Parenting is not a game, it's a job and is the most important, rewarding purpose you'll ever have in life. Your example is from God, how does He rate as a parent?

  • notaproblem Oct 1, 2007

    I think having smoke detectors is an important issue but the children are not the landlord's responsibility. The parent (1st) should have made sure the home was safe and (2nd) should have known better than to leave the kids there alone. Especially 4 kids with the oldest only being 11. The sad tragedy for these kids was lack of responsibility on the parent's part. And unfortunate and sad and horrible as losing your children is, she still should be charged with a crime. Maybe this example will help other parents to wake up and see what's really important. IT HAS GOT TO START AT HOME !

  • Con Amor Oct 1, 2007

    I can remember coming home from school and being alone til my parents got home(2hrs or so)at the age of 7. I also remember spending my summer breaks home alone from the age of 10.I knew to stay in the house with the doors locked and my parents would call every couple of hrs to check on me..I came from a "working poor" household(Regan was president),and I'm sure that my parents could not afford day care or after school...In the case that we're commenting on,I think it depends on where the mother was.If she was out working to keep a home and food for the kids,then dont charge her..BUT,if she was out clubing or with a boy friend and left here kids to do such,then I say YES throw the book at her,and make sure it hits her hard!!just my oppinion.

  • mommy2caroline Oct 1, 2007

    I have a daughter who will be 3 years old in a few weeks. I would NEVER consider having an 11 year old child to watch her with me not nearby. We were at a cookout Saturday night and a 10 year old girl who has taken a "babysitting course" asked if she could entertain my daughter so I could have a break. After an hour she handed her back. LOL but expected that! The responsibility of an adult should not be given to someone who is not even old enough to drive a car legally. It also depends greatly on the maturity level. There are some 18 year old girls I know that aren't mature enough to be trusted with children to supervise. It's hard to pick a perfect age to say they are safe. There simply isn't one.

  • rabidpro Sep 30, 2007

    likemenow says:
    "The question should be "How much of a chance do you want to take with the health, safety, and welfare of your child?....how much are you willing to risk?"..Your child's very life may very well depend on your answer"
    Excellent point! And the only point! How much risk is one willing to take with the most valuable assett a parent may have? My child is mature, smart, sophisticated, well liked, well mannered and at thirteen, absolutely does NOT stay alone. PERIOD!I take issue with the cavalier attitudes I encounter at school regarding student safety. Call me a worry-wart but, I sleep well at night knowing I go above and beyond the norm. I encourage others to do likewise. And in case you are wondering, no, my child is not a fearfull basket case, cowering in a corner, afraid to leave the house. My child is keenly aware of the people and events in the immediate vicinity and acts accordingly.

  • Mustange Sep 30, 2007

    Wow i cant believe what im reading i use to watch kids at 11 and 12 and get paid for it then at 16 and 17 i use to drive school bus for the school system {35 KIDS ON IT } back when students drove the buses.When do you think resposibilty starts, what is the politically correct age.We use to at that age driving huge farm equipment on public highways with no license. So why cant the youth today be reponsible. We are to busy to teach thim .Dont want to take time so they grow up not knowing.We cram our kids in day cares and what ever to go out and make MORE MONEY.Very few single income familys left.Both parents work ,kids stay home and have very little to no responsIbilitys.We as a society are doing an unjust to or children.Yes they should be allowed to be left home alone and they should be taught what is expected of thim chores and home work. AND THE OLDEST ALWAYS WAS IN CHARGE But NOW DAYS ITS TV AND VIDEO GAMES THAT RULE. COME ON YOU KNOW IT!!!

  • WilloWSnapper Sep 30, 2007

    an 11 yr old to watch after 3 kids ? ARE YOU KIDDING ME ? The mothe should be charged period. I WOULD NEVER let an 11 yr old or 12 yr watch my kids and whoever does watch them when the time comes needs to be trained in first aid and cpr

  • Notinitforthemoney Sep 30, 2007

    Being home alone has nothing to do with age its about the responsibility of the child.

  • girlusa Sep 30, 2007

    it's not safe at any age these day's

  • oceanchild71 Sep 30, 2007

    As many people have already said, when to leave a child on his/her own at home and/or also to babysit depends on each individual child and the circumstances.

    As far as people saying that there was not this much crime when they were kids etc, remember, back 25 or so years ago, we did not have the constant media barrage. There was no internet, etc. John Walsh really got the ball rolling with bringing attention to missing and exploited chilren (a very brave and selfless thing to do) but the media distorts it until every unfamiliar car in your neighborhood makes you want to call the police.

    Do you need to be watchful and observant? Yes! Should you take unnecessary risks and chances? No!! 30, 40, 50 years ago, very few rapes/assaults were reported to police because of the shame factor. Disappearances were known only on the local level. But now we hear of children in CA being abducted and it seems as if it is all happening in our own backyards.

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