When are Children Old Enough to Use Public Transit Without Adult Supervision?

By Chyanne Sharma: Vancouver Law Student, Legal Assistant

Parents know that determining when and how to develop self-sufficiency in children can be a challenge. Family lawyers often get questions about this topic and parents often ask “At what age is it appropriate to leave my child at home alone?” or “How old should my child be to allow them to take public transit without supervision?.” Can children supervise themselves at age 10, 12, or 16? Unfortunately, the law in this area has been very uncertain, but now the B.C. Court of Appeal has provided some limited guidance.

In a recent B.C. Court of Appeal decision, a Vancouver father of five won a legal battle over whether his children could ride the bus alone without parental supervision. This case dates back to 2017, when the children at the time were ten, nine, eight, seven, and five. The father taught his four eldest children how to ride the city bus for two years before allowing them to catch public transit unsupervised. However, in March of 2017, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) received an anonymous complaint that the children were in need of possible protection. Ultimately, the complaint led to an investigation which resulted in the decision that children under the age of 10 cannot be left unsupervised “in the community, at home, or on transit” and, that a child under the age of 12 cannot be left responsible for younger children when no adult is present. The father sought judicial review on the basis that MCFD did not have any statutory authority to require him to supervise his children in this way. The father was successful and won the appeal when Justice Barbara Fisher held that MCFD did not have the authority to make the order and set aside the ruling that required the father to supervise the children on public transit.

Does This Case Provide a Magic Age?
Not quite, as the issue of unsupervised children has been presented to the courts on numerous occasions—unfortunately, the legislation surrounding this issue is not clear cut and the Court of Appeal has made no definitive statement on the age when children can be left unsupervised. In B.R. v. K.R., 2015 BCSC 1658, the court ordered that the mother was not allowed to leave her 8 year old son alone for two hours after school. In an opinion provided by a social worker, ‘children under the age of eight years old do not have the cognitive ability to be left unsupervised’ and that the impact of leaving children unattended could lead to various risk such as accidental fires, poisoning or even injury.

How Does This Impact A Parental Decision in Leaving Their Child Unsupervised?
Unfortunately, this area of family law continues to remain gray with no definitive answer. In British Columbia, there is no current legislation that sets out when parents can leave their children alone on the bus, or even at home. When laws like this are not put in place MCFD fills the void in the legislation with ministry policy. If such a decision by MCFD is challenged the family court consider factors such as:

  • Age of the children;
  • Maturity of the children;
  • Intelligence of the children;
  • How long the children were left alone;
  • Any safety measures in place; and
  • Whether the children have a way to access a responsible adult or a way to contact their parents.

While age is the most obvious factor, it is not the sole determining factor when assessing the adequacy of parental supervision. This is because some children have more maturity and intelligence and there may be good systems in place to ensure safety. Therefore, consideration of all these factors is needed and each case must be assessed on the unique facts of that case. Like most areas of family law, parental supervision is going to be decided differently for each unique family.

If you are dealing with MCFD or a family law dispute, contact the Vancouver family lawyers at Crossroads Law for your free consultation.