In a very recent article, we shared with you a situation in which two young moms are facing child abuse charges for leaving their children alone at home while they went shopping. What makes this case somewhat singular is the fact that Michigan doesn’t actually have any laws in place for when a parent can leave their children alone at home. So why are these moms facing charges?
There are only a few states that have actual laws in place regarding the age at which a child can be left home alone, and Michigan is not one of them. But parents in Michigan are expected to use good judgment and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. How would a parent make that kind of decision, you may wonder. Well, ideally a parent would determine whether or not their child is old enough to be left alone, based on factors like a child’s age and maturity level.
However, while there are no laws outlining the right age at which a child can be left unattended, there are guidelines provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). It is these guidelines that CPS uses when trying to determine whether or not an “unattended child” scenario should be investigated for neglect.
If you are wondering if your children are old enough to be left alone at home, but are unsure of what might be the safest decision, you are not alone! Many parents struggle to pinpoint the right age, developmental stage, or maturity level for when their children can be safely left alone. So here is a simple list of guidelines to consider when making your choice:
7 and younger – Children 7 and younger should not be left alone for any period of time. This includes at home, in cars, at public playgrounds, and even in backyards.
8 to 10 years – 8 to 10-year-old children can usually be left unattended for brief periods. If you choose to leave them unattended, it should not be for more than one and a half hours, and only during daylight or early evening hours.
11 to 12 years – 11 – 12-year-old children can usually be left alone for up to 3 hours, however not late at night, or in circumstances that require inappropriate responsibility, for example a situation where they would be responsible for several other younger children.
13 to 15 years – Teens aged 13 to 15 can normally be left unsupervised, but only during the day or evening, not overnight.
16 to 17 years – Teens aged 16 to 17 can usually be left unsupervised for longer periods of time. In some instances, when they are mature enough and are experienced in meeting daily needs without oversight, this can go on for up to two consecutive overnight periods.
According to MDHHS, “as a rule of thumb, a child 10 years old and younger is not responsible enough to be left home alone. A child over the age of 10 and under the age of 12 will be evaluated, but the case may not always be assigned for a CPS investigation.”
When making a decision to leave your child unattended, always consider the maturity level and development of each child. Consider their decision making skills, their approach to personal responsibility, and their history of choices when left alone. Always choose based on what you feel will be safest and smartest for your child.