School-Aged Kids Left Home Alone Not Illegal

What is the legal age to leave a child at home?

Many parents will be relieved to learn that leaving a school-aged child at home without adult supervision is not illegal in Canada. A Winnipeg mother was found not guilty today for leaving her six-year-old son home alone while she ran errands for 90 minutes. The judge said that while leaving a six year old alone is unacceptable and a mistake on the mother’s part, it is not a criminal offence under the Criminal Code.

The child was locked inside a bungalow one afternoon in July 2013 with food, water and a television for company and suffered no physical harm. The mother was originally charged with child abandonment which carries a maximum sentence of five years. Under the Criminal Code, child abandonment charges can be laid if a child under 10 is left alone and the life and health of the child are endangered.

At SOS 4 kids, we often get calls from parents asking if their six, seven or eight year old children can be permitted to attend our home alone classes. Mostly parents ask if their younger children can attend with an older sibling who is registered in the program. Parents want their children to obtain the safety information taught in Home Alone Safety course but have no intention of leaving their child under ten unattended at home. On the odd occasion, however, we do get calls from parents asking if their six-year-old can stay home alone if they come to our program.

The clear answer is no, a six year old should not stay home alone without appropriate supervision according to a number of provincial guidelines and the judge who ruled in the Winnipeg mother’s case.

The Canadian government has not defined an age at which it is legal to leave a child alone. While there is no magic age, the Law of Abandonment is the reference point for most parents. Provincially, parents have guidelines to follow regarding this issue. In Manitoba, the Child and Family Services Act states that a child under 12 is “in need of protection” if left unattended. Whereas in Ontario, Children’s Aid Societies recommend that children under 10 not be left home alone. SOS 4 Kids refers to CAS guidelines for parents and the children who come to our courses.

Yet not all ten year olds are sufficiently responsible and mature to stay on their own even in a safe and well stocked environment. This is a judgement call left for parents as they know their child’s abilities best. It is important for children to be armed with beneficial safety information that will help them make wise decisions, prevent injuries and deal with an emergency or an unexpected situation if needed.

More and more parents are choosing programs like Home Alone Safety for Kids and Babysitters courses to help their children learn and practice skills for a lifetime of safety. Our programs have become increasingly more popular over the past couple years in communities across Canada.