How Old Does A Child Have To Be To Stay Home Alone?

Child left at home alone at night

When a child can stay home alone is a question many parents ask, especially with rising daycare costs.  In a recent Family Court appeal decision in British Columbia, which has been reported in the national media, the court ordered that a very mature eight-year-old child was too young to stay home alone based on his age alone.  The court did not care about the child’s maturity level, but noted that many children under the age of 10 had been injured or harmed when left unsupervised.   On that basis, the Court ordered that the child welfare authorities could intervene in the family. 


In Ontario (and British Columbia) there is no statute that says how old a child must be to stay home alone.  However, s. 37(2) of the Child and Family Services Act authorizes the court to order that a child be placed in foster care, or that a children’s aid society can intervene in the family, if a parent has failed to make adequate provisions for the care of a child or if the child may be at risk of physical harm.  Children’s Aid Societies have used these provisions as a basis for intervening because parents have left a child, who is too young, unsupervised.  So leaving a child alone at too young an age can result in the parents ending up in court or the child ending up in foster care.


As there is no legislated age when a child can be left alone, whether a child is too young is really an evaluation that a child protection worker makes if the child comes to the attention of the children’s aid society.  Some agencies have guidelines, but in Ontario, only Durham Children’s Aid Society publishes its guidelines for when children should be supervised. Those guidelines say that parents may consider leaving children at home under “indirect supervision” starting at age 10.  The expectations of other agencies may or may not be similar.  Even the DCAS guidelines note that this is a judgment call.  But, because of the drastic consequences that can face parents (and children) in Child Protection Court, parents really should “play it safe” and err on the side of caution. Whether a child is too young to be home alone is frequently a decision made by the one child protection worker investigating the situation and his or her beliefs on the subject can carry the day.


One thing that is clear from the BC case is that the child protection worker did not trust the mother who was leaving the child alone.  Even if the child was very mature, the mother’s approach to the worker was not cooperative.  That lack of cooperation made the worker suspicious and doubt the mother’s judgement as a parent.  There are some very important rules to follow when a child protection worker comes to your door.  One of those is to do everything possible to make a good first impression with the worker.  In these cases, making the right impression on the worker can be the difference between whether your child ends up in foster care or whether the children’s aid society goes away completely.


Learn more about what children’s aid socities expect and what to do when a children’s aid society calls doing an investigation into child abuse or neglect, by listen to this episode of the Ontario Family Law Podcast. It covers how to act, whether you should speak to the investigator, whether you should let the children be interviewed, what to sign and what not to sign, when to speak to a lawyer and several other tips.


There is also a chapter on what to do when the children’s aid society is investigating you in this easy-to-understand book on Ontario Family Law, which available as a paper back and as a $9.99 as a Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for iPad, iPhone or Mac Get a copy today because you really need to know not only your rights when dealing with a children’s aid society, but also how to avoid saying or doing things that seem like a good idea, but which the children’s aid society can use against you.  The ebook can be downloaded in minutes, so you can find out more immediately - before you speak to the CAS or do anything further.


It really is worth your while to consult a child protection lawyer and read the book because if you get yourself into a trouble in a CAS case, it can take a long time to get yourself out and that may mean that your kids are in foster care for a long time.  Getting good advice early on can keep you out of trouble.


John Schuman is a Certified Specialist in Family Law who has done children’s aid society cases for more than 15 years, acting for parents, children’s aid societies and native “bands” (the term in the Child and Family Services Act for First Nations.  John has a unique approach to advancing the interests of parents and their children (and sometimes their First Nation) by using his comprehensive knowledge of child protection law and constitutional law to develop effective strategies.   He has developed this different, yet effective, approach because John does not practice under the Ontario Legal Aid Plan and is not constrained by the limitations of that service because he operates with private financial retainers.   To contact John Schuman, call 416-446-5847email him, or use the form below.  We view child protection and children’s aid societies matters as emergencies and we will get back you immediately.  Be prepared to come in for a consultation right away as we want to respond to the CAS and protect you right away.


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© John P. Schuman 2012-2015