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Leaving Children Home Alone (in Oregon) – Update

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See recent updates (e.g. 2/10/11, 6/15/09), but also click on the Home Alone label in the sidebar.

Some who just left me a Comment on my previous leaving children home alone post asked if there were any laws “about 2, 3 or 4 children being left in one home alone that are just friends or days alone or over night alone?”

I wish there was a simple answer, but there is not. Like a lot of questions about leaving children home alone, if the general information given on the various websites doesn’t answer your question, you may need to consult a “professional.” “Professionals” includes any number of possibilities, from a social worker, to a law enforcement officer to a lawyer.

I recommend trying the following resources for finding someone who can advise you, keeping in mind that no one except an attorney can advise you on the law in your specific situation. It may seem like a lot of trouble to do this, but it’s better than seeing a police officer on your doorstep when you return home – or worse than that, an ambulance.

1) Contact a local social service agency, for example, your county’s branch of the Department of Human Services (see reference in the Clackamas County article, below).

2) Some counties have one or more nonprofit organizations that can advise you. In Washington County we have this terrific Community Action site. Call your own 211 service or your public library for other referrals. If your city or county has a government information line, try that. In some very small towns, ask the Mayor when you run into him/her at the grocery store. You can also call one or another of your elected officials, e.g. Find Your Legislator. Your state legislators make state laws, your local city or county commissioners make local law.

3) You could also contact the Oregon State Bar Information and Referral Service and ask them if they know the answer to your question or if they can make a referral. Their Problems Solvers (a legal aid service for 13-17 year olds) probably has attorneys who answer “home alone” and “babysitting” questions and may know the answer. (You can always have your 15 year old call them 🙂

4) Here’s the information from the Clackamas County website (last checked on 1/13/09):

What is the legal age for leaving a child home alone?

When people ask this question they are typically wanting to be told a specific age when a child can be left alone. To the surprise of many, there is no specific age provided for by law. There is, however, one law which provides a minimum guideline. Oregon’s child neglect laws indicate a child should be at least ten years of age or older. Child neglect in the second degree is defined by a person having custody of a child under 10 years of age and, with criminal negligence, leaves the child unattended at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.
Some children who are ten years of age or older also should not be left alone. In these circumstances, the good judgment of the parent or guardian is most important. Generally speaking there are three primary variables which need to be considered. First, the maturity of the child, second, the environment provided for the child and third, how long the child will be unattended. The best advice is to error on the side of caution, safety and the best interest of the child. As a guideline it is also advisable to be extra cautious with children under 10 years of age. If in doubt it would be wise to call the State Department of Human Services – Clackamas Branch: 971-673-7200 or 1-800-628-7876.

In regard to maturity, a child may be 13 years old and yet immature and unskilled at providing for him or herself when alone or during an emergency. Under these circumstances, if notified, the police or State child welfare agency may be concerned. However, a child may be 11 years of age, very mature, quite skilled at meeting his needs and well prepared to respond to an unanticipated event. In this case it may be appropriate to leave the child unattended for a short period of time.

The child’s environment is also of great concern. Central issues of concern include the provision of food, heat, emergency planning, and access to a responsible adult if needed. Ideally, if a child must be left unattended for a short period of time, a neighbor should be available to periodically check in on the child. Of course, regular phone calls from a parent demonstrates appropriate concern too.

It is not advisable to leave any child unattended for an extended period of time.”

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One response to “Leaving Children Home Alone (in Oregon) – Update”

  1. I never leave my 10 year old alone in the house for more than an hour in the day, and never at night. I always lock the doors and turn off appliances like dryer and stove. I remind her to stay inside, not to answer the phone unless it's my special ring, not to answer the door. I remind her to go to the neighbors next door if there is a fire. The idea is not to alarm her, but to review constructive responses to unlikely emergencies. The idea of my children being harmed or lost is not something anyone wants to consider. I found an article by anationofmoms about a service that can protect your family via your cell phone. And, at the bottom there is an opportunity to enter a drawing for 6 months of that service just by liking them on Facebook. You might find it interesting: http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-family-giveaway.html

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