A 3-year-old died in a house fire in Kentucky, and police have charged the boy’s aunt with second-degree manslaughter and first-degree wanton endangerment.
Police say the woman left the toddler and her 11-year-old son at home while she went to another county to watch go-kart races. The home caught fire, and the 11-year-old sought help from a neighbor. By the time the neighbor reached the house, it had been consumed by flames, and the toddler was dead…
How old is old enough to be left home alone? And, when can leaving a child at home alone result in criminal liability in SC?
How Old is Old Enough to be Left Home Alone?
Kentucky does not have a law specifying the appropriate age for children to be left alone at home. There is a range of opinions on what that age should be, but few people would defend the decision to leave a 3-year-old and an 11-year old at home with no adult supervision.
Only a handful of states have laws dictating the age at which a child can be left alone at home, and the differences in those laws spotlights the lack of consensus.
For example, in Illinois, the law says a child must be 14 before being left alone. Both North Carolina and Maryland law say 8-year-olds can be left alone at home, and, in Oregon, the age is 10.
What Does SC Law Say?
While South Carolina doesn’t have a specific law regarding the age at which children can be left alone, the state has issued a non-legal guideline recommending that children younger than 8 never be left alone.
Most people think of active abuse when they think of criminal child abuse and neglect. It is illegal to harm a child physically or emotionally through sexual exploitation, excessive corporal punishment or other physical abuse. But, adults can also be held criminally responsible for any harm that comes to a child who gets hurt after being abandoned, left alone inappropriately, or neglected.
How Old Is Old Enough?
SC law on the issue is vague, and whether a person would be charged with child abuse and neglect or homicide by child abuse will depend on the facts of each individual case.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends that, generally, children younger than 12 should not be left alone. However, the organization recognizes that not all kids are the same and that parents are often the best judge as to how much responsibility to give older children.
For example, if you have a 13-year-old who shows unusually bad judgment, you probably shouldn’t leave them home alone. On the other hand, parents of a well-adjusted 11-year-old who has proved an ability and willingness to follow the household rules may want to experiment with leaving the child alone for short periods.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Ready to be Left Home Alone?
Here are some of the tasks a child should be able to complete before being left alone:
- Use a phone and know how to dial 911 or Poison Control;
- Understand and follow directions such as “Lock the doors”;
- Remember the names of two responsible adults to call in case of emergency;
- Find and use the family’s basic first aid supplies;
- Know how to find and use supplies such as flashlights during a bad storm;
- Lock and unlock doors;
- Know how to contact parents and other family members;
- Prepare appropriate snacks or even microwave meals, depending on how long they are being left alone;
- Consider being left alone a privilege and a responsibility rather than a chance to misbehave.
You can help prepare your child for being left alone by coming up with a list of questions and making sure they have appropriate answers.
These questions might include:
- What would you do if you got home from school and there was no electricity?
- What would you do if you heard reports of a tornado or other severe weather event?
- What would you do if the smoke alarm went off?
- What would you do if one of the family pets got lost?
It Takes A Village …
You can also enlist the help of neighbors to put your mind at ease. Tell trusted neighbors that you are going out and your child will be home alone. Ask them to keep an eye out for strangers, be available for phone calls, and maybe even check in on the child.
For more information on safely leaving children home alone, visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/homealone.pdf.
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Columbia, and Charleston, SC
If your child was hurt after being left home alone in SC, it may or may not lead to criminal charges for child abuse and neglect and DSS will likely get involved. Depending on the facts of your case, you may have valid defenses, or you may be eligible for an alternative that will keep your record clean like a pretrial diversion program.