If you are a working parent you are probably wondering what you will do with your children during the summer. This begs the question: “In Illinois, how old does a child have to be before you can leave them at home alone?”
The general rule is that parents can provide the amount and type of care that they determine is appropriate for their children. But, there are times when parents can run afoul of Illinois’ child welfare and criminal laws. Endangerment, neglect, and abandonment are the watchwords.
What situations are considered endangerment, abandonment, or neglect?
First, a person commits child endangerment when they knowingly cause or permit the life or health of a child under the age of 18 to be endangered. Child endangerment includes leaving a child 6 years of age or younger unattended in a vehicle for longer than 10 minutes. A child is only unattended if they are not accompanied by a person 14 years of age or older or, they are out of sight of that person. A violation of this law is a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. Subsequent violations are felonies.
Second, a person commits child abandonment when, without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that child, they knowingly leave a child under the age of 13 without supervision by a responsible person over the age of 14 for a period of 24 hours or more.
Third, a person commits child neglect when they leave a minor under the age of 14 without supervision for an “unreasonable period of time” and again, “without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that child”.
For both abandonment and neglect, the court looks to whether the child is left “without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare”, a list of factors are considered including:
- the age of the child;
- the number of children left at the location;
- special needs of the child, including whether the child is physically or mentally handicapped, or otherwise in need of ongoing prescribed medical treatment such as periodic doses of insulin or other medications;
- the duration of time in which the child was left without supervision;
- the condition and location of the place where the child was left without supervision;
- the time of day or night when the child was left without supervision;
- the weather conditions, including whether the child was left in a location with adequate protection from the natural elements such as adequate heat or light;
- the location of the parent, guardian, or other person having physical custody or control of the child at the time the child was left without supervision, the physical distance the child was from the parent, guardian, or other person having physical custody or control of the child at the time the child was without supervision;
- whether the child was given a phone number of a person or location to call in the event of an emergency and whether the child was capable of making an emergency call;
- whether there was food and other provision left;
- whether any of the conduct is attributable to economic hardship or illness and the parent, guardian or other person having physical custody or control of the child made a good faith effort to provide for the health and safety of the child;
Based on the law, a parent should normally be able to leave a child above the age of 14 at home during the daytime while they are at work.
The law does not give a clear yes or no answer about leaving children above the age of 6 and under the age of 14 at home during the day. Parents should consider the factors above in making a decision about whether or not to leave their children at home while they work.