At What Age Can a Child Be Left Alone?

little girlParents frequently express a range of opinions on this question. There is no simple answer. When it comes to federal and Illinois law, the best answer is, “it depends.”

There are various criminal and child welfare laws related to child abandonment and endangerment. The Illinois Criminal Code says child abandonment is knowingly leaving a child under the age of 13 alone without a responsible person over the age of 14 for a period of 24 hours or more while ignoring that child’s mental or physical health, safety, or well-being.

Under the Juvenile Court Act, child neglect means leaving a minor under 14 years of age “without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor.”

Importantly, parents of older children, such as 13 or 14 years of age, can still be found guilty of child abandonment or neglect since the court examines various factors other than age, including: the child’s special needs; how long the child was left alone; whether the child had an emergency contact to call; and whether another person knew that the child would be alone.

Frequently, the person to report child abandonment or neglect is not a warring spouse but rather an undisclosed reporter such as a parent or neighbour. So, parents should be mindful of not only what they think is reasonable supervision but also what an onlooker would view as appropriate.


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