Leaving your child home alone in Canada is a process, not a simple event for which your child is suddenly “ready.” Every child ages, matures, and learns at their own pace, so deciding when all children are ready to be left unsupervised can be challenging. For this reason, the age at which a child can be left unsupervised for a reasonable time across Canada ranges from 10 to 12.
Alberta has no specific legislation ruling the proper age for a child to be left safely home alone. That decision is placed within the hands of the guardian, presuming they are not directly placing the child in harm’s way.
What Does The Law Say About Leaving My Child Home Alone?
The law holds parents and guardians responsible for assessing the risks and benefits of placing a child’s safety in the child’s own hands. Leaving a child home alone, unsupervised, can expose them to unnecessary risks to which they would not typically be subjected. Along with a minimum age of 10 to 12 years old; Canadian law states a parent must consider the following when deciding if their child can be trusted to be left unsupervised:
- Overall safety knowledge
- Access to resources
- Basic first aid
- Emergency contacts
- Reliable telephone
- Accessible support system
- Emergency management knowledge
- Degree of isolation
- Maturity level
It is entirely the guardian’s responsibility to ensure the child has the proper skills and resources to act appropriately in an emergency before being left alone. If a court deems that a parent did not consider these, the situation may indicate neglect to authorities, and child protection services may feel the need to intervene.
What Skills Does My Child Need to Know to Be Trusted at Home Alone?
“Being home alone is not an event. It’s a process,” states Child Safe Canada. Parents should train children for situations they may be trusted to be left unsupervised. Starting with small increments of time, a parent should slowly increase the child’s skill and maturity level. The child should always feel that they are remotely supervised and supported, with direct access to assistance if the situation becomes difficult or frightening.
As a child becomes more comfortable with being left alone and unsupervised, household safety rules should be regularly reinforced and monitored. If the child cannot demonstrate proper maturity regarding these things, revoke time left home alone. If they successfully show comfort, confidence, and respect for the rules, guardians should reward them with more extended periods without supervision.
What Can Happen if I Leave Child Home Unsupervised at an Inappropriate Age?
Alberta’s Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act states that a child left home alone inappropriately may be deemed neglected in court. Whether or not the authorities consider the child neglected may be determined by the length of time left alone, the child’s maturity level and knowledge, available resources, frequency, degree of isolation, and access to emergency services.
If the child is found to have been neglected, child protective services may intervene, and, in dire situations, the guardianship rights of a parent may be scrutinized. Parents may face legal penalties and criminal charges if a child is left unattended at an age younger than ten if it is determined they were guilty of unlawfully abandoning the child or knowingly exposing that child to harm.