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.
One of the most important ways to keep children safe is for children to be supervised by an adult or other responsible caregiver. Child Protection will assign a social worker to look into the safety of a child if the rules below are not followed for children:
- Under the age of 8 are never left alone for any period of time
- Ages 8-10 may be left alone for less than three hours
- Ages 11-13 may be left alone for less than 12 hours
- Ages 14-15 may be left alone for less than 24 hours
- Ages 16-17 may be left alone for longer if there is a plan in place about how to respond to an emergency
Age when children can babysit other children
Children under age 11 should not provide child care to other children. For children age 11 and older who are providing child care, the same limits apply to them based on their age as described above. For example, a 12-year-old who is babysitting still cannot be left alone more than 12 hours.
Supervision Guidelines (Spanish)
Other factors impact when children can be left alone
Age matters, but your child may need to be older depending on abilities, activities and environment. Child Protection may assign a social worker if a child still seems unsafe alone based on these factors:
- A child’s age, mental ability and maturity level
- Accessibility of the parent, guardian or designated caretaker to a child by phone and/or in person
- The presence of intellectual deficits, psychological issues, mental health concerns, and/or physical problems like illness or disabilities
- Behavioral history of a child, including suicidal thoughts or actions, fire setting, delinquency, vandalism, or assault
- A child’s age if using the kitchen stove, an iron or other appliance
- Fire safety, including a well-understood escape plan created by the parent/guardian, a fire drill rehearsed with a child, a working fire/smoke detector in the home
- Any unusual hazards in the home that reasonably cause extra risk, including unsecured/accessible firearms and ammunition
- If the child feels confident and safe when left alone
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.
Call Dakota County Social Services, Children and Family Intake, at 952-891-7459.
Source: Minnesota Child Maltreatment Intake, Screening and Response Path Guidelines DHS-5144 12/15 and Minnesota Statutes 626.556, Reporting of Maltreatment of Minors