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When is it criminal neglect to leave your children alone?

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See recent updates (e.g. 2/10/11), but also click on the Home Alone label in the sidebar or the bottom of this post.

Some of the most frequently asked questions by parents (of librarians!) are.

When can I leave my children home alone?
How old do my children need to be before I can leave them alone?
How old does my oldest child need to be before I can leave him/her alone with a younger sibling?

Parents don’t generally ask, “how old do my children need to before I can leave them alone in the car?” (or at the skate park, at the public library, or at Nordstrom’s) though perhaps they should be asking. The response isn’t always “duh.” It’s sometimes, please read State v. Obeidi, 211 Or App 377.

And sometimes it’s “huh?” Today’s story (10/19/07) in the Oregonian (print) Metro section, “Neglect case falls into the law’s gray area,” gives you a few reasons why there isn’t always a clear answer.

As the story states (excerpt):

Oregon law does not specify what age children must be supervised. But if they are younger than 10, police and prosecutors have wide discretion to decide when leaving children alone isn’t just questionable parenting but is criminal neglect.

It’s a “common-sense standard,” said Charlene C. Woods, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney who prosecutes child abuse.

Woods said Oregon law requires looking at all the circumstances, including the age of the child, the length of unsupervised time, where he or she was left and the risks of injury.

“Leaving a 2-year-old unattended in a car at 2 a.m. while you’re getting hammered in a strip joint — that’s an easy one,” she said.

Read the whole story.

I’ve blogged about this subject before, here and here and will probably do so again since a very large percentage of my blog-visitor stats come from people looking for answers to these questions.

(Disclaimer: None of this is to ignore the fact that both parents and children really, really, really need to be left alone sometimes – really – so go away and let me read my book 🙂