Illinois — As Illinois law states, any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor’s welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time, may be guilty of neglect under the law.
That’s because Illinois has some of the strictest laws of its kind in the nation when compared to other states. But one Illinois lawmaker wants to lower the age. House Bill 4296, which was filed by Rep. Joe Sosnowski, would allow children 12 or older to be left home alone.
Christine Borovay is a mother of four. She has a 15 year old but she said waited until she felt her daughter was mature enough to be on her own.
She said the law should be changed because each family’s situation is different. Borovay said some parents aren’t able to be home right when their kid gets home from school.
Only a handful of other states have a minimum age for leaving children home alone. For example, three states list 12 as the minimum age for leaving children home alone, while three states set the minimum age at 8. Kansas lists the minimum age at 6. At least 30 states have no minimum age for when a child can be left home alone.
“There’s a difference between a couple hours in the evening after school compared to all day everyday or all night depending on when the parents work,” explained Borovay.
As Illinois Policy states in this article, while the law in Illinois defines neglect only where the child under 14 years old is left without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for his or her mental or physical, health, safety or welfare, it does not define “unreasonable period of time” or “regard for the mental or physical health, safety or welfare.”
Amanda Goings with Cheerful Home in Quincy, Illinois told News 25 the law should be changed to 12 because child care centers like theirs can’t watch kids once they turn 13.
“DCFS doesn’t allow us to have children when they turn 13, so these children are most likely staying home alone at that point so those should line up.” stated Goings.
The law does state that whether the minor was left without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor or the period of time was unreasonable shall be determined by considering the following factors, including but not limited to:
(1) the age of the minor;
(2) the number of minors left at the location;
(3) special needs of the minor, including whether the minor is a person with a physical or mental disability, or otherwise in need of ongoing prescribed medical treatment such as periodic doses of insulin or other medications;
(4) the duration of time in which the minor was left without supervision;
(5) the condition and location of the place where the minor was left without supervision;
(6) the time of day or night when the minor was left without supervision;
(7) the weather conditions, including whether the minor was left in a location with adequate protection from the natural elements such as adequate heat or light;
(8) the location of the parent or guardian at the time the minor was left without supervision, the physical distance the minor was from the parent or guardian at the time the minor was without supervision;
(9) whether the minor’s movement was restricted, or the minor was otherwise locked within a room or other structure;
(10) whether the minor was given a phone number of a person or location to call in the event of an emergency and whether the minor was capable of making an emergency call;
(11) whether there was food and other provision left for the minor;
(12) 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 minor;
(13) the age and physical and mental capabilities of the person or persons who provided supervision for the minor;
(14) whether the minor was left under the supervision of another person;
(15) any other factor that would endanger the health and safety of that particular minor.
The decision to leave a child home alone is not one that most parents take lightly. But it is an essential part of the process of growing up. In fact, the Child Welfare Information Gateway (which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), “[b]eing trusted to stay home alone can be a positive experience for a child who is mature and well prepared. It can boost the child’s confidence and promote independence and responsibility.”
Leah Groth wonders however, why she felt so guilty every second she was in the dry cleaners recently.
“The other day I went to pick up my dry cleaning with my children, ages 3 years old and 6 months, in the car. As I pulled into the strip mall, which is located near our home in Wheaton, Illinois, probably one of the safest suburbs on the planet, I went through the usual internal debate in my head: Should I just leave the kids in the car, lock the doors and open the windows a crack, and run in, or should I take each of them out of their carseats, walk them into the store — my daughter in my arms and my son’s hand held in mine — and attempt to pay for the bill and carry out the clothes without anyone getting hit by a car?
Groth says she opted to just leave them in the car but says the entire 120 seconds she was inside the store, the possible outcomes raced through her head. She says she knew her children were in no inherent danger due to the fact that she was standing 15 feet away, but says her biggest fear was that a passer-by would take a photo or a video and have her arrested.
Inspired by these incidents and the overall “parenting norm” that Americans have adopted in which every child is expected to be under constant direct adult supervision, paired with statistics that violent crime rates have decreased in the last few decades, Ashley Thomas, Kyle Stanford, and Barbara Sarnecka decided to do a little research, and their findings were published Tuesday in open access journal Collabra.
The group conducted experiments with over 1,300 online participants, creating a series of scenarios in which a parent left a child unattended for a period of time. The participants determined how much risk of harm was done to the child during each period, as well as judged the morality of the parent in question. Then, experimenters changed the reason the child was left alone.
For instance, in one of these scenarios a child is left alone in the car after his mom is hit by a car while returning a shopping cart in the parking lot. In another case, they are left alone so the mother could go to work, volunteer, relax, or meet a lover.
Researchers discovered that it was not the actual act of the child being left in the car that affected an individual’s assessment of the risk, but the reasoning behind it — whether or not they believed the parent had done something immoral. If the child had been left in the car unintentionally, they were generally assumed to be moral, and if intentionally, immoral. The level of perceived risk associated with each scenario followed the same trend as perceived morality – the more immoral someone believed a parent to be, the more they believed the child was at risk.
The authors boiled it down to this: “People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous.”
During a QA with NPR, the authors explained that the lesson they hope people will take away from their study, in a nutshell, is that we need to have more faith in each others’ parenting instead of judging them irrationally, and we also need to stop trying to “punish the bad mommy.”
That’s not to get situations confused with actual bad mommy’s, like Erin Lee Macke of Iowa. This woman decided to leave the children home alone in late 2017 while she went to Germany for twelve days. Macke was charged with four counts of child endangerment.
Should you feel guilty for leaving your kids home alone or in the car? Probably not.
Does that mean you should do it? Maybe not, but not because you believe they are in any actual danger. Because you might be in danger, of being arrested and having them taken away from you.