What Age Can You Leave a Child Home Alone?
The family law lawyers at Crossroads Law are often asked how old a child should be before he or she can be left at home alone.
In Canada, only three provinces establish a minimum age at which children can be left home alone.
The Child and Family Services Act, C.C.S.M. c. C80 in Manitoba outlines that a child is in need of protection where the child being under the age of 12 years, is left unattended and without reasonable provision being made for the supervision and safety of the child.
In New Brunswick, children under the age of 12 cannot be left unsupervised. The Family Services Act, 1983, c.16, s.1., states that the Minister will place a child under protective care if the child is left unattended for an unreasonable length of time and no reasonable provision for the care, supervision or control of the child is made.
The Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, Chapter C.11 in Ontario states, “no person having charge of a child less than sixteen years of age shall leave the child without making provision for his or her supervision and care that is reasonable in the circumstances.”
In British Columbia, there is no legislated minimum age for leaving a child alone for a short period. However, according to a B.C. Supreme Court decision, children under the age of 10 should not be left unsupervised at home.
In B.R. v. K.K., 2015 BCSC 1658, the Appellant mother, B.R. has two children, A.K., an eight year old and Q.K., a four year old. B.R. is separated from the children’s father. B.R. left her four year old with a caregiver but she left her eight year old son home alone every weekday after school from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. until she came home from work. When a social worker became aware of A.K.’s after-school situation, she visited the home while B.R. was present. She informed B.R. that a child under the age of ten could not be left unsupervised and requested that B.R. agree to a “safety plan”. B.R. declined. The Director under the Child, Family, and Community Service Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c.46 then brought an application with respect to B.R.’s care of the Children and sought the following supervision order:
- B.R. will ensure that A.K. and Q.K. will be under the care and supervision of a responsible adult at all times and not be left alone to care for themselves.
- B.R. will allow the Director direct and private access to A.K. and Q.K., whether scheduled in advance or not, and at any time the Director deems necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the children.
- Failure to comply with the aforementioned terms of the Supervision Order must result in the removal of the children
The social worker gave evidence at the presentation hearing and testified that, in her opinion, “children who are eight years of age do not have the cognitive ability to be left unsupervised.” She also cited various risks, including accidental poisoning or fires which could arise “regardless of A.K.’s level of maturity.” She did not agree that some children eight or nine years’ of age would be capable of staying alone.
B.C. Provincial Court Judge Wright accepted that children under the age of 10 could not be safely left alone and concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that A.K. required protection. The Director was granted an interim supervision order for A.K. pending a protection hearing.
B.R. appealed the decision of the Provincial Court. She argued that the social worker should have completed an individual investigation and assessment of A.K. and his circumstances. Legislators made a deliberate decision not to set a minimum age at which children may be left alone. They wanted to leave it up to the discretion of the social workers who will “inquire into the level of maturity of the particular child...and...into provisions for remote monitoring and supervision of the child” for each individual case. The social worker frustrated the legislative intent by applying an arbitrary rule and concluding that A.K. was in need of protection solely based on his age and lack of after-school supervision.
Mr. Justice Punnett did not agree with B.R. and noted that B.R. refused to permit the social worker to speak with A.K. and kept her from undertaking the individual inquiry that B.R. now says should have been done.
The B.C Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the decision of the Provincial Court.
So, when can you leave your child at home alone? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as there is no legislated minimum age at which a child can be left alone in British Columbia. However, as a result of this case, parents who have children under the age of 10 should reconsider leaving them unsupervised at home regardless of their level of maturity.
Contact Crossroads Law to learn more about this issue or to book a consultation.