December 9, 2020 | Custody and Parenting

At what age can your children be home alone?

Parents and caregivers have to balance more today than ever before. With demanding work schedules and growing families, parents need to account for every minute of their day. Another factor is to make decisions that ensure their children’s safety while encouraging their growing independence. In reality, many children often spend time alone at home unsupervised, but is this legal?

In Quebec, there is actually no legal age for leaving your child home alone. However, it is important to note that there is an age at which the Director of Youth Protection (DYP) can intervene: if the child is under the age of 12, for neglect etc. For example if your child is under the age of 12 and is seriously injured while you are gone, you can be charged with negligence under the Youth Protection Act. Moreover, when it comes to leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, Quebec has established a statutory age limit of 7 years old.

The Canada Safety Council (CSC) strongly suggests that a child under the age of 10 should not be left home alone and if they are, it should not be for a period of more than 2 consecutive hours. If, for example, a neighbor files a complaint with the DYP because your child is home alone, the DYP will conduct an investigation (first by telephone) to ensure the child/ren’s safety.

In situations related to a lack of supervision, the law identifies several conditions for a child to become a child in need of protection (see: Legal Age for Leaving Children Unsupervised Across Canada, Ruiz-Casares & Radic, 2015). The following are examples of a child in need of protection: if there is an inability or unwillingness to provide adequate care, supervision or control of the child, failing to supervise and protect the child adequately, leaving a child unattended for an unreasonable length of time and failing to make adequate provision for the child’s care, and abandoning, deserting or losing a child. The burden of proof lies with the party bringing the case forward i.e., the State through its Child Services Department. When a person in charge of a child is found guilty under a Welfare Act, that person commits an offence and may be liable to a fine.

It’s all a matter of judgment. We strongly suggest that you take some time to reflect and consider the context before making the decision to leave your child home alone. Remember, it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure your child is safe and secure until they reach the age of majority.

Here are some contextual variables to consider
  • The time at which the child is left alone at home (the time of day) (is it when the child returns home from school? Or is it at night?)
  • The length of time the child is alone (is it after school until the parents return, a few minutes, a few hours, a whole day?)
  • The child’s responsibilities (does the child have to make their own lunch? Take care of the younger siblings? Should the child bathe at night and go to bed independently?)
  • The child’s age (Is it s a few minutes after school? but not a 5-year-old)
  • The child’s personality (his or her level of independence) (it’s not just a question of age, but also the child’s temperament and maturity. It should be noted that depending on the child’s development, children under the age of 10 get bored more quickly and are more inclined to panic when left alone)
  • The environment (do you live in an isolated place (house in the country (isolated from neighbors), do you have close and trustworthy neighbors to help your child in times of need?)

Another question we are often asked is, what age can my child babysit? In Quebec, a child is considered fit to babysit other children as of the age of 12 (see: Legal Age for Leaving Children Unsupervised Across Canada, Ruiz-Casares & Radic, 2015). The CSC provides online checklists for safety (i.e., Telephone, Security, Fire Safety, First Aid, and Power Outages) and advises parents and children to communicate clearly and to prepare children for being home alone. The CSC also provides structured onsite programs such as the Home Alone Program and the Babysitters Training Course in several provinces and territories as well as online. Through ten sessions (25 hours) of interactive group learning, the former provides children 10 years of age and older with the skills and knowledge needed to stay home alone “for short periods of time.” The Babysitters Training Course, aimed at children turning 12 years of age, includes information on issues ranging from child development and nutrition to games and basic first aid. Another program, the Babysitting training program offered directly by Red Cross Canada, is aimed at children between 11 and 15 years of age. Over the course of 8 hours, participants learn basic safety, first aid and caregiving skills, how to prevent and respond to emergencies, and how to promote themselves as a babysitter to prospective parents.

In conclusion, despite your busy schedule, the most important thing is to make sure that your children are safe. Best to air on the side of caution and despite the fact that Quebec does not have a legislated minimum we would recommend using 12 year old as a guideline, as this is the age deemed appropriate to be sufficiently mature to take care of even other children, as a result are able to take care of themselves as well. We also recommend that you have your children take the babysitter course, as they will learn important skill sets that can help them in their everyday life. It is also important to remember that anything can happen even when you are home, the difference is that you are there to help them if an emergency arises.

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