A couple of months ago there was conversation about when you could leave your kid alone. Was there a law? An age limit? What was the deal in Oregon? I asked urbanMama lawyer Trina Montalban to do some research and let the urbanMamas know - what was the LEGAL answer. Here is her response. /courtney
My name is Trina
Montalban. I am a lawyer and a mama, and have been an avid reader of
UrbanMamas for years. Although my law focus is on estate planning
and administration, when Courtney asked if I could research what age
we can leave our children home alone, I agreed because it gave me the
opportunity to look into this issue for myself.
Huge disclaimer: I am
not giving legal advice. If you have a legal question, you should
speak to an attorney.
I first looked at whether
there is any law on point. There is none. There is, however, a law
on child neglect in the second degree for children under the age of
10 and a law on reckless endangerment. See Oregon Revised Statute
(“ORS) 163.545 for the law on child neglect in the second degree
and ORS 163.195 for the law on recklessly endangering another person.
In the Oregon Court of
Appeals case, State
v. Paragaon, 195 Or. App. 265 (2004), the
court stated that a conviction of child neglect in the second degree
requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt “(1) that leaving the
child unattended was likely to endanger her health or welfare, (2)
that the risk of that harm occurring was substantial and
unjustifiable, and (3) that the defendant’s lack of awareness of
that risk was a gross deviation from the normal standard of care.”
In the following three
situations, a parent was charged with child neglect in the second
degree, but the court found that the parents were not
- A 4-year-old opened an
unlocked door and took a ride on his tricycle out into the street
while his mother was home asleep. A passerby found him and called
- A 2 ½-year-old wandered
across a street to a store while her mother was taking a shower. A
store clerk found the girl and called the police.
- Parents left their
seven-year-old and nine-year-old children alone to go the emergency
room. The parents were gone for 45 minutes. The parole officer of
one of the parents found the children alone while visiting the home.
In the following two
situations, a parent was charged and found guilty of child neglect in
the second degree.
- A mother left her
8-year-old and 22-month-old children at home alone for five hours
with matches and candles within easy reach. After 2 hours, friends
stopped by and saw the children watching TV. When the mother
returned home, she found the house in smoke and her children dead.
The court found that the amount of time the mother left the children
alone was a factor. The court also found that a reasonable person
should know that it is a significant risk to leave children alone
- A mother left her
3-year-old and one-year-old children in the car while she ran to the
store to buy diapers. The windows were rolled down enough, such
that a person could take the kids or the children could fall out.
The 3-year-old was seen reaching her hands outside of the window and
pulling on the handle. The grocery store was in a high crime area
and the mother was gone for about 30 minutes. The court found that
responsible adults should know that harm from strangers is a likely
danger when a very young child is left alone, visible, and
accessible in a busy parking lot for a period of 30 minutes.
These cases made it clear
to me that the question isn’t simply when can we leave our children
home alone, but how can we keep our children safe when there is no
way to keep our children under constant supervision. We all need
sleep and showers…
The Oregon Legal Research
Blog has a useful post on the question of when you can leave children
The blog provides the exact language of our Oregon laws.
Additionally, they provided information on an important resource:
the American Red Cross in Oregon class titled: “When I’m in
Charge for children 8 to 11.” Classes cost $50.00 and are held
throughout the year in various locations. The class description
your child is 8 to 11 years old, this course will prepare them to
respond safely to a variety of “home alone” situations.
our children safe is not easy and not always in our control. But,
this class sounds like it gives our older children some tools to keep
themselves safe if they ever find that they are home alone.