How young is too young to leave a child home alone?

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — After two local mothers were charged with neglect for allegedly leaving their children home alone, 10 On Your Side is looking into how authorities determined neglect took place.

Over the weekend, an 8-year-old boy was allegedly left alone in a Suffolk home while his 27-year-old mother, Kionna Moret, allegedly traveled to South Carolina for Memorial Day. And last week, police say a Norfolk mother left her six children alone while she went to a bingo hall.

10 On Your Side talked to Carl Ayers, director of family services for the Virginia Department of Social Services, about what classifies as child neglect in cases like these.

“If you’re going to leave a child in a situation where they aren’t fully capable of a being able to take care of themselves, then you would fall under CPS services,” Ayers explained.

That standard, though, isn’t set by a specific age. Ayers said not all children reach maturity at the same age, so parents have to keep that in mind.

“Are they physically capable, mentally capable of making decisions? If there’s a dangerous situation, do they know what decisions to make in that situation? Do they have the capacity to cal 911?” he said.

Ayers said it’s important to talk with children about what to do in different situations, and to make sure the child is comfortable executing the safety plan. He also said parents should set up a support network before leaving a child home alone.

“A lot of times, there are family members who can check on them, neighbors who can check on them,” he explained. “The parents can check on them — more and more, there are closed-circuit TV cameras where you can watch the child from work.”

Though Ayers could not comment on the evaluation of Moret’s 8-year-old son, he said, generally, if an 8-year-old is left alone, that raises a red flag.

“Generally, an 8-year-old is going to be more vulnerable to any number of situations, and it’s going to have us respond more quickly, as well,” he said.

For parents who leave their children in latchkey situations, CPS will assess several aspects to determine if neglect is involved:

  • Child’s level of maturity — CPS will want to assess whether the child is physically capable of taking care of himself; is mentally capable of recognizing and avoiding danger and making sound decisions; is emotionally ready to be alone; knows what to do and whom to call if an emergency arises; and has special physical, emotional, or behavioral problems that make it unwise to leave be left alone. It is important to note that a child who can take care of him/herself may not be ready to care for younger children.
  • Accessibility of those responsible for the child — CPS will want to determine the location and proximity of the parents, whether they can be reached by phone and can get home quickly if needed, and whether the child knows the parents’ location and how to reach them.
  • The situation — CPS will want to assess the time of day and length of time the children are left alone; the safety of the home or neighborhood; whether the parents have arranged for nearby adults to be available in case a problem arises; and whether there is a family history of child abuse or neglect.

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