California’s law on the age to leave child home alone

California’s law on the age to leave child home alone


By Joshua Jones

In today’s busy and expensive society, it is not unusual for both parents in a household to work. Parents are often faced with the dilemma of leaving children alone for some part of the day to meet their own work obligations. Given the level of crime our society faces, including home invasions, parents may wonder what the appropriate minimum age is that a child should be before he is left home alone. The answer is not simple.

  1. No Minimum Age

    • The state of California does not have a statute or regulation specifying the minimum age a child must be before he can be left home alone. However, California does have a system of child welfare that includes neglect of a child as an issue. Leaving a child home alone who is not ready could result in an allegation of child neglect, leading to review by Child Welfare Services.

    Child Welfare Services

    • California has a Child Welfare Services agency for every county. CWS is guided by the Children’s Services Operations Bureau, a division of the California Department of Social Services. CWS takes reports of child abuse and neglect and then investigates those complaints.

    Definition of Neglect in California

    • In California, there are two types of child neglect charges. The first is general neglect, which according to the Legislative Analyst Office “is the negligent failure of a parent/guardian or caretaker to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.” The second is severe neglect, which refers to “those situations of neglect where the child’s health is endangered, including severe malnutrition.” Depending on the age of a child, length of time a child is left alone and whether there are resultant injuries, most instances of latch-key kids would fall under general neglect.

    Details to Consider

    • According to advocacy groups, the age of 12 is the generally accepted age at which a child may be left alone. However, it is feasible that some children younger than 12 may be more mature than actual 12-year-olds. Perhaps this is why few states have adopted a hard-and-fast rule. To avoid a charge of neglect, a parent should consider the maturity of their child and make sure there is adequate food, shelter, clothing and supervision. A parent concerned about the possibility of neglect should ensure the basics, such as food, clothing and a way into the house, and that the child has backup supervision, such as a neighbor she could call in an emergency.


    • This article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. A parent or guardian should consult an attorney in his specific jurisdiction to ensure that his particular facts are acceptable to prevent a charge of child abuse or neglect.


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