Minnesota law does not provide a specific age a child must be before he or she may be left home alone or left under the care of another child. There are general laws, however, that require adequate and appropriate supervision of children.
County child protection offices are required to enforce that general law. As a result, Dakota County Child Protection has adopted guidelines to define those situations when it will investigate or assess a report of children who may be inadequately supervised.
Lack of supervision
The decision to investigate or assess a report of unsupervised children will be made in light of the following considerations:
- The maturity level of the children.
- The accessibility of the parent, guardian, caretaker or responsible adult by phone or in person.
- The physical or mental health condition of the children.
- The behavioral history of the children.
- Whether a young child is using a stove, iron or appliance which poses a danger because of their age.
- Whether the parents have discussed an escape plan or held a fire drill with the children.
- Whether the residence has a smoke detector.
- Whether there are unusual hazards in the home.
- The children's reaction to being left alone.
- The ages of the children being cared for.
- Whether the child has completed a babysitting clinic.
- The reliability of the person that the parent has chosen to provide supervision.
When reports will be investigated
Considering the factors above, the following reports will be investigated or assessed:
- Reports of children age 7 and younger left alone for any period of time.
- Reports of children age 8– 9 who are alone for more than 2 hours.
- Reports of children age 10– 13 alone for more than 12 hours.
- Reports indicating that children age 14– 17 are unsupervised while parents are absent for more than 24 hours will be screened, considering adequate adult back-up supervision.
Dakota County accepts the following guidelines for older children providing supervision to younger children:
- It is acceptable for children age 11–14 to babysit with the expectation that the parent, guardian or caretaker will be returning to supervise the children later that same day.
- It is acceptable for ages 15 and older to babysit younger children for more than 24 hours.
In general, Dakota County Child Protection will investigate or assess a report that fits within the above list. They may find, however, that leaving a child alone is appropriate or inappropriate even if the exact age of the child does not fit within the guidelines.
For example, they may receive a report that a 7-year-old child has been left alone for one hour. After investigation or assessment, they determine that the child was in fact left alone for one hour. However, they also determine that the child is mature for her age, is comfortable being alone, knew where and how to contact a parent, the home was safe and protected, with adequate locks and smoke detectors, etc. They would then make a determination that this was not a case of child maltreatment because of the other factors involved. On the other hand, they may determine that it is child maltreatment to leave a 9-year-old home alone for 2-1/2 hours (or less) because the child is developmentally delayed, did not know how to contact a parent, and did not know what to do in case of a fire.
Use common sense
The bottom line for parents is to avoid situations that fit the investigation or assessment criteria and to use common sense in all situations. Please remember that leaving children home alone can be a risk, and parents should always do whatever they can to reduce the risks. Please make sure to discuss emergency situations with your child if they are left unattended and make sure they can readily find you or a responsible adult quickly if needed.