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Home Alone – How Young is Too Young? – Court Rules

Terrace/Vancouver – An eight-year-old child is too young to stay home alone, the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled.

In the judgment released this week, the court upheld an earlier ruling in the case of a Terrace mother who left her eight-year-old son unsupervised after school.

The boy’s mother had allowed her son to stay home unsupervised after school between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day.

But court said that’s too young, no matter how mature his mother believes him to be.

The case stems out of concerns by a social worker and the boy’s father, who is separated from the boy’s mother. They had objected to the mother allowing her son to stay home unsupervised after school, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day, and when she continued her actions, she was threatened with the removal of her child.

In court, a social worker testified children under 10 lack the cognitive ability to stay safe on their own at such a young age due to potential incidents including accidental poisoning or fires.

The mother argued there was no proof her child needed protection, that children mature at different rates and there’s no law stating how old kids have to be to stay on their own.

But the B.C. Supreme Court judge upheld the findings of the previous trial judge, that “children under the age of 10 could not be safely left alone, therefore establishing there were reasonable grounds to believe [the boy] required protection, and that such protection could be effected by a supervision order.”

‘It’s a parent’s right to decide’

John-Paul Boyd, executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, says while this case isn’t precedent setting, it presents a lesson to parents.

“You have to be careful about the social worker who comes to visit, because he or she has a great deal of discretion in deciding what the ministry decides to do,” he said.

Boyd says the mother had a good defence, and agrees children mature at different ages and there’s no legal definition of when a child is old enough to be left on their own.

“There are seven-year-old kids that I would trust with the keys to my house, and 17-year-old kids I would never trust with the keys to my house,” Boyd says. “It’s a parent’s right to decide whether or not her particular child is old enough and mature enough to handle those decisions on his own.”

Boyd says the laws around these issues have not changed in many years, and the only thing that might be changing are social workers’ and judges’ interpretations of the law.

However, he says that a society, we’ve become more “neurotic” about keeping watch over children.


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