The decision to leave a child home alone is not one that parents or caregivers should take lightly. While it may have been a common practice decades ago, the public is now more aware of how dangerous it can be in certain situations. Nowadays, there are laws that prevent parents and caregivers from leaving children unsupervised.
Children mature at different rates, so deciding when to leave a child home alone is not straightforward. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics survey of social workers that was posted in Science Daily, children under 12 years old should not be left alone for more than four hours. The social workers who were surveyed also concluded that child neglect will likely be considered when children are injured during that time period. It is reported that more than 40 percent of child injury-related deaths happen when there is not sufficient adult supervision.
Many children are left alone for much shorter periods of time. Understanding when a child is able to successfully negotiate the daily risks of living can be difficult. Even when a parent knows their child better than anyone else, mistakes in judgment can be made. There are some questions that caregivers can ask themselves that might help determine if the child is independent enough to spend time alone:
- Is the child comfortable being at home alone?
- Can the child take care of themselves?
- Is the child able to follow house rules?
- How does the child respond to stressful situations?
- When decisions need to be made, does the child make the right choices?
What is Considered Child Neglect in New Jersey?
Although some experts believe that children under 12 years old should not be left alone for four hours, states like New Jersey do not specify a certain age. New Jersey considers child neglect to be when a parent or caregiver affects the well-being of a child. This can be done by failing to provide for the child’s minimal physical and emotional needs, food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, and supervision. Parental actions that are considered to be gross negligence include actions that may be considered as reckless behavior. For example, leaving an 11-year old child home for an hour so that the caregiver can drop something off at the post office is not similar to leaving a 6-year old child at home alone every day for four hours.
What is the Division of Child Protection and Permanency?
The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is a state agency that is responsible for the welfare of children, and they receive reports about children being left unsupervised, child neglect, and cases of child abuse. Once a report is received, the DCPP will mostly likely investigate the claim. DCPP representatives will question the child, parents, caregivers, and others who may have witnessed what happened.
After the DCPP steps in, they may create a plan to protect the child, such as having the child live with relatives temporarily. The DCPP will assess the situation and determine if continued supervision and intervention is needed. They will identify the immediate risks and work on ways to prevent future endangerment. They will look at the child’s home life, family situation, school, culture, and community, as well as resources that can help. In the best case scenario, the family works with the DCPP to promote healthier behaviors to keep the parents and children together.
If the DCPP concludes that the parent or caregiver had subjected the child to endangerment, they may end up filing a petition with the family court to have the child removed from the home. If they believe the child is immediate danger, they may take steps to remove the child sooner or immediately. In some cases, the parents may face criminal penalties for child endangerment or child abandonment. The latter is when the parent’s absence has subjected the child to serious harm or risk.
Permanent removal of the child will require a court order, and that decision will be made by a family court judge. In the end, the child may be placed with a relative. The judge will keep the child’s best interests in mind when considering the options.
Can My Child be Left Alone?
The Child Welfare Information Gateway has some helpful suggestions for parents who wonder if their children are mature enough to stay home alone. It is a good idea to transition into it slowly rather than leaving for many hours. To start, parents can explain in detail what should be done in emergency situations and write up a set of rules that must be followed. Then, parents can roleplay with their children. The parent could pretend that they were a stranger knocking on the door and see how the child responds. From there, the amount of time away can be increased in increments.
If a parent is accused of child neglect, they should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Child abuse and neglect accusations should not be taken lightly. A lawyer will protect the rights of the parent.
Haddonfield DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Parents Falsely Accused of Child Neglect
It can be difficult to determine when children should be left alone at home, and a parent may not fully understand what is acceptable and what is neglect. Anyone who is being investigated or faced with child neglect charges or abandonment will want to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer. A Haddonfield DCPP lawyer at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker can help you with your child neglect case. Call us at 856-795-9400 or complete our online form for an initial consultation. We have an office located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.