A Canadian judge ruled on February 20, 2015 that a Manitoba mother was found not guilty for leaving her six-year-old child at home unattended while she ran errands for 90 minutes. Leaving a six year old alone is unacceptable and a mistake said the judge, but it is not a criminal offence under the Criminal Code. Many parents are relieved that they didn’t have to scramble to find daycare for their school-aged children.
Under the Criminal Code, child abandonment charges can be laid if a child under 10 is left alone and the life and health of the child are endangered. The child was locked inside a bungalow one afternoon in July 2013 with food, water and a television for company and suffered no physical harm. The original charge of child abandonment carries a maximum sentence of five years.
At SOS 4 Kids, an Ontario organisation that provides children’s safety training, we often get calls from parents asking if their six, seven or eight year old children can be permitted to attend our home alone classes. Mostly parents ask if their younger children can attend with an older sibling registered in the program. Parents want their children to obtain the safety information taught in Home Alone Safety course but have no intention of leaving their child under ten unattended at home. On the odd occasion, however, we do get calls from parents asking if their six-year-old can stay home alone if they come to our program.
The clear answer is no, a six year old should not stay home alone without appropriate supervision according to a number of provincial guidelines and the judge who ruled in the Winnipeg mother’s case.
Federally, there is no defined age at which it is legal to leave a child alone. While there is no magic age, the Law of Abandonment is the reference point for most parents. Provincially, parents have guidelines to follow regarding this issue. In Manitoba, the Child and Family Services Act states that a child under 12 is “in need of protection” if left unattended. Whereas in Ontario, Children’s Aid Societies recommend that children under 10 not be left home alone. SOS 4 Kids refers to CAS guidelines when advising parents and the children who come to our courses.
Yet not all ten year olds are sufficiently responsible and mature to stay on their own even in a safe and well stocked environment. This is a judgement call left for parents as they know their child’s abilities best. It is important for children to be armed with beneficial safety information that will help them make wise decisions, prevent injuries and deal with an emergency or an unexpected situation if needed.
More and more parents are choosing programs like Home Alone Safety for Kids and Babysitters courses to help their children learn and practice skills for a lifetime of safety. Our children’s safety training courses have become increasingly more popular across Canada over the past couple of years.
Image Credit: Fox Home Entertainment
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About Velma Ganassini
Velma Ganassini is the mother of 3 terrific boys, founder of the multi-award winning SOS First Aid and Safety Training, co-founder of SOS 4 Kids Inc (www.sosfirstaid.ca) and co-author of Home Alone Safety for kids. She is dedicated to making injury prevention information more interesting and engaging for children and adults. Follow Velma on Twitter @sosforkids.