Leaving kids home alone

April 5th, 2011 by | Permalink

Shannon Hawley, age 29, accused of child cruelty for allowing 11 yr. old to babysit. Photo via Conway Police Department.

Is it okay to leave an 11-year-old at home alone? What about a 10-year-old or an 8-year-old for that matter? Although there are many factors involved, such as the child’s maturity level and the age of his/her younger siblings, it seems to me that society’s acceptable age to “babysit” keeps getting higher as our life expectancies rise.

When I was a kid, back when Shelley Duvall had a career, I was babysitting newborns when I was 11 years old. In fact, I was taking care of multiple kids for slave wages, even if you adjust for inflation, until 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning. While I believe there are parents out there that would feel comfortable allowing their 11-year-old to babysit an older child, say 5 years and up, they likely wouldn’t announce it on the 10 o’clock news or anything. Furthermore, I knew of kids in kindergarten while I was growing up that were latch key kids. If you did that today, your kids would be in foster care quicker than any explanation would allow.

Recently, a woman in Conway, South Carolina, was arrested on two counts of child cruelty because her two daughters were left alone one evening until the mother returned at 11 p.m. The kids were 11 and 7. Granted, the mother allegedly failed an observed sobriety test when she returned home and found the police waiting for her. If she’s guilty of what she’s been accused of — “Driving with an Unlawful Alcohol Concentration” (DUAC, which is similar to a DUI) , then she deserves to be punished for that crime to the full extent of the law, but the two charges were based on her leaving her daughters home alone.

Turns out, the 11-year-old’s father is the one who contacted police, alerting them to the fact that his daughter may be home by herself.

When the police asked the mother why she left her kids there, she said that her older daughter was babysitting.

According to SCNOW.com, the mother, Shannon Hawley, age 29, was charged for child cruelty based solely for leaving her children home alone. But South Carolina doesn’t have a strict law as to what age you can leave a child home alone. It, like many states, leaves that determination to the discretion of the parent(s) with caveats. The children must be left in a safe environment, have food, know how to address an emergency or reach an adult, etc. Granted, there may be some missing details in this case but considering the reports clearly state that the children were unharmed, why is she being charged with two counts of child cruelty?

At what age is it appropriate to leave children home alone?

On the other side of the debate, I have met parents who allowed their 8-year-old children to be home alone, for a short time and when a neighbor was aware. These children happen to be exceptionally smart and mature, so is that okay or would that land some people in jail?

If the daughter in this case happened to be 13, would that have made a difference?

Since the girls have different fathers, DCFS has placed them in different homes. One with her biological father and the other with their Grandmother. Assuming these girls were safe, since there isn’t information at this point to prove otherwise, and provided the court does their job in addressing a possible drinking problem (I don’t know if she has one, but the court should be able to make a judgment based on the information they have in their possession), then how does this crime warrant the separation of sisters?

What do you think? Can an 11-year-old babysit a 7-year-old?

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