A man from Raleigh, North Carolina was recently arrested for leaving his five children at home alone. His oldest child is 8 years old. Victor King, who was bailed out by a total stranger, claims that he had to go to work to support both his children and his wife, who is suffering from stage 4 cancer. Authorities were alerted to the house by a neighbor who called 911, alleging that this was the second day in a row the kids were left alone without adult supervision. Apparently, this isn’t the first time this father has done this. He was convicted of child neglect in California after engaging in a similar act. So, one of the questions raised by this case is, “What should happen to the father?” Also, the bigger legal and moral question is, “How old should kids be before being left home alone?”
I remember not too long ago when my wife and I struggled over this issue. We frequently wondered, “Are our kids old enough to leave at home alone without a baby sitter?” For quite some time, the answer was, “Not yet.” We wanted to be sure we were doing the right thing. The first issue for us was whether we felt they had the ability to get through a few hours alone without any problems. If the answer was “yes,” the next question was, “Can we legally leave them home alone?”
Florida has no minimum age requirement for leaving kids at home alone. Only three states currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving children home alone. Maryland requires the child to be at least 8 years old. In Oregon, children must be 10 before being left home alone. Illinois law requires children to be 14 to be left home alone.
Because there’s no specific age requirement in every state other than three, parents around our great nation are required to use their common sense and good judgment. The law always requires parents to consider what is in “the best interest of the child.” Still not clear? Join the club. In the abundance of caution, it’s better to wait. The last thing you want is for Officer Unfriendly to accuse you of being a bad parent for leaving your child home alone. The impact of an arrest for something like this would be devastating. When making this decision, at a minimum, make sure the child is mentally and physically capable of handling the demands of being home alone.
THE RALEIGH CASE
Because I’m a defense attorney, I know you’re expecting me to zealously defend the actions of Mr. King. Well, you got me wrong. I can’t defend the actions, both legally and morally. I saw a photo of his five children and one of the kids was in diapers. The oldest, the 8 year old, looked like he was incapable of adequately caring for the other four, younger siblings.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t take the case. I would zealously argue that he shouldn’t be convicted of the offense. I would suggest to prosecutors that a diversion program would be more appropriate under the circumstances. As part of the program, perhaps parenting classes and close supervision would be better suited for him. Convicting him and punishing him in the criminal arena would only ensure that providing for his ailing wife and family would prove to be more challenging if not impossible. That’s not the route this case should go. Mr. King has a great deal of support in the community, which is why a stranger bailed him out. The Go Fund Me campaign has already raised over $10,000 to help this family. Prosecutors will point to his prior record as support for why he should be punished for this lack of judgment. It will be interesting to see what they offer him.
When in doubt, don’t do it. If you think your kids may be too young to leave at home, then you’re right. God forbid something terrible happens when you’re away, even for a short period of time. My wife and I waited longer than we would have liked (having to suck up the baby sitting fees), however, it was worth it.