Deciding what age is appropriate for children to be left home alone or with an older sibling is difficult for parents to determine, especially when it could be seen as neglect or child abandonment.
Legal age for being home alone
While Utah doesn’t have a specific age in which children are old enough to be left home alone, it is recommended by the National SAFEKIDS campaign that parents not leave anyone under the age of 12 home alone, and even then only if they are mature. When leaving children home alone, it is important that the children have key essentials first, such as:
• Mature older sibling or babysitter
• Emergency contact numbers
• Safe, childproofed home
• Rules for staying safe
Leaving children without the things they need to be safe and healthy is looked at as being negligent, and can lead to neglect or child abandonment charges. Unfortunately for one Utah family, the responsible parent failed to provide for the needs of her children prior to her departure and is now facing prison time.
Utah mom leaves children at motel
A southern Utah mom was arrested last week for charges related to child abandonment after she left her three children alone at the motel where the family was living. The oldest child, a 14 year old, is assumed to have been in charge during her absence. During the time that the mother was away, the two younger children, without proper winter attire, left their older sibling at the motel room late at night to go obtain food. Police officers spotted the improperly dressed, hungry children and followed them back to the motel. There the children disclosed that they had no food and didn’t know where their mom was. Officers later located and confronted the mom about her whereabouts, learning she had been out of state and appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Although a 14 year old should have been old enough to watch their two younger siblings for a short period of time, the mom is facing prison for charges related to child abandonment because she left the children without the clothing and nutrition provisions they needed and no way to contact her or another adult.
The phrase “child abandonment” is often used during parental custody battles, when one parent attempts to prove that the other has no interest in the child(ren). Utah law however, also uses this term to define parents who leave their children in poor circumstances. According to Utah code 76-5-109, child abandonment is when “a parent or legal guardian of a child [human being who is under 18 years of age]:
• Intentionally ceases to maintain physical custody of the child;
• Intentionally fails to make reasonable arrangements for the safety, care, and physical custody of the child; and
• Intentionally fails to provide the child with food, shelter, or clothing […]”
Child abandonment is considered child abuse and is punished as such. Utah Code 76-5-109 also states: “A person who commits child abandonment, or encourages or causes another to commit child abandonment, or an enterprise that encourages, commands, or causes another to commit child abandonment, is:
(a) […] guilty of a felony of the third degree; or
(b) guilty of a felony of the second degree, if, as a result of the child abandonment:
(i) the child suffers a serious physical injury; or
(ii) the person or enterprise receives, directly or indirectly, any benefit.”
Any parents who are facing child abandonment charges after leaving their children home unattended are encouraged to seek counsel from a reputable criminal defense attorney.