Child Home Alone Laws in California
By Beverly Bird
Updated December 14, 2018
California is one of several states that doesn’t have a law that specifies at what age a child can be left alone. But this doesn’t mean it might not be a criminal offense if you do it when he’s too young. The court decides this on a case-by-case basis, and the level of your child’s maturity is usually the pivotal factor. A 10-year-old might be capable of caring for himself, while a rebellious 12-year-old might not be.
Neglect Can Result in Criminal Charges
Provided you don’t walk away and leave your child defenseless without instructions and food and that he’s reasonably mature, you probably won’t be charged with criminal neglect for leaving him alone for reasonable intervals. However, this can depend to some extent on the opinions of strangers.
California has a mandatory reporting rule, which means that certain professionals must tell the authorities if they feel you’re neglecting your child. They include teachers and school personnel, adults associated with any youth organization such as community sports teams, and medical professionals. California law defines general neglect as negligently failing to provide your child with shelter, food, clothing, medical care – and supervision.
Child neglect can result in misdemeanor charges with penalties including up to one year in county jail, monetary fines and probation.
Establish Rules for Home-Alone Child
If you think your child is mature enough to be left unattended, the California Department of Education sets out some guidelines for doing so. Write out the child's rules and post them on the refrigerator or in some prominent place so he can easily locate and refer to them. Explain what he should say and do if a stranger telephones or rings the doorbell. List emergency contact numbers and anything else you think is important given your personal circumstances.
Leaving an Older Child at Home Watching Younger Children
Similarly, California does not have a minimum age for babysitting children, nor is there a law about how many siblings or other relatives a child can babysit. Use discretion when determining whether an older child has, or lacks, the maturity needed to care for younger siblings. While a child of 12 or 13 may be responsible enough to care for himself at home, he may lack the maturity needed to care for younger siblings.
California laws do not specifically provide a minimum age requirement to leave a child home alone, or a minimum age for a child to be able to care for younger siblings. However, leaving children alone before they are ready may result in criminal charges and penalties.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.