ATLANTA — Parents wondering how old is old enough to leave a child home alone will not find a specific age in Georgia law.
While digging into the serious issue of child neglect in metro Atlanta, 11Alive discovered that most states do not specify an age where it’s legal to leave a child home alone.
We spoke with experts in the field of child protection to help us explain why.
Georgia has laws concerning neglect. You can face criminal charges if you fail to provide proper care for a child.
“Leaving a child unsupervised does not rise to the level of a crime unless the child is exposed to greater risk,” says Melissa Carter, law professor at Emory University.
Only Illinois, Oregon, and Maryland have statutes that specify an age dictating when it’s okay to leave a child home alone. In Maryland, the age is eight.
“Most states do not specify a minimum age for which a child can be left home alone because of the recognition that such a decision depends on a number of factors in addition to age,” says Emily Gardner of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Maturity, behavior and special needs of the child, the circumstances in which the child will be left alone, and comfort level of the child are also factors to consider.
“Age-based rules can be arbitrary and give a false sense of confidence regarding a child’s safety,” says Carter. “An older child might need supervision due to special needs or disabilities, whereas a younger child may have taken babysitting courses that have prepares him or her for greater responsibility.”
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services has guidelines to help parents determine if a child is ready to be left alone.
Those guidelines say eight or younger is too young. When it comes to children older than eight, DFACS recommends measuring the child’s level of maturity before deciding if it’s okay to leave that child home alone.
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