WASHINGTON — How old do children have to be before they can stay home alone?
This is the question on many minds after an 11-year-old girl in Prince George’s County was charged in the death of a 1-year-old she was left at home alone with.
Investigators said the baby, Paxton Davis, was left in the care of the girl’s adult family members at their home on Pearl Drive in Suitland, Md.
The girl's mother left the 11-year-old and the baby alone to run an errand on Sunday morning. When the girl’s family returned, they found Paxton suffering from severe injuries to his upper body, according to a police report. The baby later died from his injuries at a local hospital.
So, can adults be charged or fined for leaving children alone at home? WUSA9 researched which jurisdictions in our local area have laws against leaving children unattended.
In Maryland, there are laws against leaving children unattended, some of which are punishable by fines or imprisonment. According to Maryland Family Law §5-701, leaving children unattended may be considered child neglect, defined as “failing to give proper care and attention to a child,” according to the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
Maryland Family Law §5-801 states “it is a crime to leave a child younger than 8-years-old unattended, locked or confined to a home, car, building or other enclosure without proper supervision.” The law also states that “a child cannot be left unattended without proper supervision by a reliable person at least 13 years of age.” This offense is punishable by fines or imprisonment.
MDHR says a caregiver who does not plan for the child’s safety may be investigated by law enforcement and.or Child Protective Services.
D.C. law, on the other hand, says a child is anyone up to age 18 but does not give a specific age at which children can be on their own at home, according to the Child and Family Services Agency.
The agency said parents and guardians should consider several factors when deciding to leave their child or children home alone. CFSA says infants and young children (and others who need constant care) should not be left home alone, “the older the child, the lower the risk.”
“Beyond that, you know your child. A trustworthy 12-year-old may be fine at home for an hour while you run an errand. The same situation may not be a good idea for an unruly 17-year-old,” the agency’s website reads.
CFSA also says adults should consider how long the child is being left alone at home, “The shorter the time alone, the lower the risk.”
Virginia State laws also not specify an age where children can legally stay at home. The Virginia Department of Social Services say parents and guardians must not use age alone as the indicator of whether or not a child can stay home alone.
Child Protective Services in Virginia will asses three major factors: the child’s level of maturity, accessibility of those responsible for the child and the situation or reason for why they are left alone.
DSS says “It is important to note that child who can take care of him/herself may not be ready to care for younger children.”
Despite not having a statewide law in place, DSS notes that some localities may have ordinances about the age children may be left without supervision.
Overall, it is very imperative that adults consider err on the side of caution when leaving children alone at home in any state or county. If there is no other options but to leave the child or children alone, they should be prepared and know how to reach you or authorities in case of an emergency.