Safety experts agree with courts that kids under 10 shouldn't stay home alone
TORONTO -- A B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found an eight-year-old is too young to be left home alone is being supported by some safety experts who say kids aren't fully ready to stay solo at such an early age.
The child in the case, known as A.K., was staying home unsupervised on weekdays after school between 3 and 5 p.m. while his mother, B.R., was at work. A social worker was made aware of the situation and told B.R. that kids under age 10 couldn't be left alone.
B.R. went to court to challenge a supervision order for A.K., arguing that kids mature differently and that there was no law indicating how old youngsters should be to stay home alone.
She lost and the B.C. Supreme Court subsequently upheld the trial judge's ruling that kids under 10 couldn't be safely left unsupervised at home.
The Abbotsford, B.C.-based organization Kidproof Safety offers an At Home Alone program which is recommended for youngsters 10 and up. President Samantha Wilson says many parents have wanted to enrol their eight- and nine-year-olds in the program -- a move that is "strongly discouraged."
"A lot of parents think (children are) mature and they're responsible -- which could be very true," Wilson says.
"But what we have to remind them is that child still only has eight years of life experience to draw from in case of an emergency or if something happens, which often parents don't think about.
"I'm not even convinced all kids at 10 should be left at home alone. But at 10, they're really at the age that they're starting to be able to think about making safe choices, thinking about thinking critically about situations."
Parents have to assess whether their kids have the mental ability to react to an emergency, such as a fire, says Lewis Smith, communications and media program co-ordinator with the Canada Safety Council.
"Is the kid mature enough or smart enough to react appropriately? That's the kind of thing that oftentimes is lacking when parents leave younger kids at home," says Smith.
Janice Quirt has asked her nine-year-old son, Josh, about his willingness to be home alone -- even for a short period -- and he's simply not ready. Still, the Orangeville, Ont., resident has made an effort to go over emergency plans with Josh and her five-year-old daughter Daisy. She ensured they're capable of using the phone for calls and texts.
"Everyone's so different," says Quirt, a contributing editor to SavvyMom.ca.
"I have a hard time thinking that you could possibly say that all eight-year-olds are not mature enough to be home alone. I think that some of them definitely are, and that the people that know best are their parents.
"Unfortunately, I'm sure there are some cases where that's not the best judgement call, and that's important then to have that investigated and make sure that the child is safe and not put in an uncomfortable position or an unsafe position.
"But I think by and large parents are a very good judge of their kids' responsibility and comfort level."
Wilson says parents should not only ask their kids if they're ready to be home unsupervised, but also pose questions about "realistic situations" that could arise, like an unexpected knock at the door or a parent coming home later than planned.
Parents should ensure the home environment is safe with all doors and windows locked, as well as having a fire extinguisher in place. An adult should also be available somewhere nearby if the child needs help in an emergency, Wilson says.
Both Wilson and Smith agree that parents should give kids a test run of being on their own before leaving them alone for more extended stretches of unsupervised time.
"We really don't recommend long periods of time for anyone under 15 or 16," says Smith.
"If a child is being left home alone for the first time, a couple hours at most should be the goal."