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Q: Leaving a child home alone ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Leaving a child home alone
Category: Family and Home > Families
Asked by: respree-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 28 Dec 2002 21:22 PST
Expires: 27 Jan 2003 21:22 PST
Question ID: 134504
I am trying to find out what California law says about leaving a child
home alone.  Specifically, I need to know the age limit when it
becomes illegal to leave a child unattended at home.  This would be
for Los Angeles County.  Thanks for your help.

Request for Question Clarification by googlenut-ga on 29 Dec 2002 02:06 PST
Hello respree-ga,

I have spent quite a bit of time researching this.  I live in Los
Angeles County and I find it an interesting subject.

Based on the data I have found, there appears to be no law in
California which specifies a minimum age at which a child can be left
alone. I can provide links to information to support this.

I have also not found any specific data regarding any laws in Los
Angeles County, but I can provide some information that discusses
recommendations for leaving children at home.

Would this information be an acceptable answer?


Clarification of Question by respree-ga on 29 Dec 2002 06:38 PST
Hi Googlenut:

Thanks for your effort.  Yes, if you could provide links that support
that there are no California laws regarding this issue, that would be
an acceptable answer.
Subject: Re: Leaving a child home alone
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 29 Dec 2002 09:45 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear respree-ga;

Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer your interesting

There is indeed a law which covers this topic and it is clearly
referenced in:

For the purposes of this statute, CALIFORNIA CODES PENAL CODE SECTION
11165 defines a child as “a person under the age of 18 years".

In addressing GENERAL NEGLECT in SUBSECTION 11165.2(b) the statute
"General neglect" means the negligent failure of a person having the
care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing,
shelter, medical care, or supervision where no physical injury to the
child has occurred.”

The operative word here under the color of California law is
“supervision”, or more specifically, the lack thereof. Technically,
any child under the age of 18 left unsupervised COULD raise the
suspicion of authorities that the child is being neglected. This,
however, usually does not come into play until and unless someone
lodges a complaint or the child exhibits delinquent behavior resulting
in a criminal (illegal) or status (an act that is only considered
illegal because the offender is a minor – possession of alcohol,
truancy, runaway, etc) offense.

CALIFORNIA CODES PENAL CODE SECTION 11165.2(b)is the crime in which a
parent or guardian may be charged citing GENERAL NEGLECT and/or CHILD

Below you will find that I have carefully defined my search strategy
for you in the event that you need to search for more information. By
following the same type of searches that I did you may be able to
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that that my research exceeds your expectations. If you have any
questions about my research please post a clarification request prior
to rating the answer. Otherwise, I welcome your rating and your final
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Request for Answer Clarification by respree-ga on 29 Dec 2002 10:31 PST
Thank you for your answer.

I'm afraid, however, the Penal Code Sections you've lead me to
prevents me from drawing a logical conclusion.  This sections seems to
speak in term of definitions, specifically 'neglect.' (i.e. failing to
provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, etc.) and seemlingly (unless
I'm missing something) fails to answer my specific question.  It seems
to me there should be a specific age where a child can take care of
his/herself for a short period of time.  For example, a 17 year old
can easily walk over the refrigerator and get something to eat (thus
preventing the 'failure' to provide adaquate 'food' as defined in the
Code), whereas an infant child cannot.  The section seems to lump the
ages of 0 through 18 into one category ("child"), where clearly there
is a big distinction between a 1 year old and a 17 year old.

Here is what I'm getting at, so please allow me to rephrase the
question.  It is illegal in Los Angeles, CA to leave a 12 year old
child alone at home (for lets say, one 24 hour period)? If yes, at
what age does it become 'not' illegal.

I've searched for this answer as well, and was unable to come up with
anything, which suggests Googlenut could be right (that there is no

I welcome your comments and/or clarification to your answer.

Thanks for your effort.

Clarification of Answer by tutuzdad-ga on 29 Dec 2002 13:40 PST
Dear respree-ga; 

The citation that I referred you to is indeed the one that will be
considered if and when someone is to be cgarged with leaving a child
unattended. There is no legal refernece to any certain age that is
designed to set of a legal alarm when a child is found to be without
supervision. The law is written broadly this way in order, not to
persecute those who have a very mature and responsible minor child,
say, in your case, this hypopthetical 12 year old, but to reign in
those who have a very immature 16 year old who is not capable (not
through diaability, for that is a different issue altogether) to take
care of himself. Parents who allow their children to wander the
streets for example could be similarly charged, as could those who
leave their children (18 and under) and home overnight and they end up
having a party, terrorising the neighborhood, or making annoying
phones calls. Now all this may seem trivial offenses but they must be
curtailed. The vest way to do it is to get deep into the parents'
pockets in terms of a heavy fine and also allow the legal system to
gain jurisdiction over any counseling or remedial parenting classes
that might be in order. Otherwise, the court would have no legal
authority to rectify the problem.

Now, let me also say this, if someone were to leave an 8 year old at
home overnight by himself and someone reported it, it is quite likely
that the entire neighborhood would aplaud when the authorites arrived
to intervene. This blatant show of irresponsibility is not reasonable
and is not a decision that a prudent person would make in our society.
The end result would depend almost entirely upon what the court would
think of your actions when you stood before the judge. On the other
hand, someone who left a responsible 12 year old home alone overnight,
and no complaint or problem resulted from such a decision, would
highly unlikley to suffer any legal ramifications. Though technically
illegal, as cited by the law, this is not an uncommon decision made
among the prudent and resonable parents in our society. Furthermore,
in a city of 2 mmillion people, the authorities undoubtedly have
"bigger fish to fry" than policing the private homes of otherwise law
abiding citizens.

As for the stated age, it is 18 - the statute indicates that in clear
and simple terms. We must remember that law was not written for
convenience of the majority of people, but as a means of protecting
the least of our society from themselves or from those who would do
them harm. Having said that, you should also note that officers are
trained to use discretion and weigh the cirsumstances in every case. I
feel relatively certain that your intentions are good and that you
will take every precuation to prevent your small ones from coming into
harms way.

By the way, in case you are wondering, I have a bit of insight into
this issue. In my free time I am a Google Answers Researcher, but in
the real world, I am a law enforcement officer and a father, and have
been both for almost 21 years.

Stay safe!

Best regards;

Clarification of Answer by tutuzdad-ga on 29 Dec 2002 13:43 PST
I apologize for the typos. I inadvertently turned my spell check off
prior to posting the clarification. This problem has since been

Thank you for understanding.

respree-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you for your clarification and research on this subject.

Subject: Re: Leaving a child home alone
From: googlenut-ga on 29 Dec 2002 11:00 PST
Hello respree-ga,

Here are the links to the data that I was referring to:

State of California, Child Development Policy Advisory Committee 

They state the following:

"How do I know my child is legally old enough to stay home alone?

There is no California law that sets a specific age. General consensus
sets the age at around 12 years old, but there are many variables,
such as the child's maturity (and emotional comfort at the idea of
staying home alone), the safety of the environment, the number of
hours that the child will be alone, access to
adults in case of an emergency, etc."

Also, from the LAPD website:
“Your ten-year-old comes home from school at 3:00, but you don't get
home from work until 5:00. He's at home alone for those two hours
every weekday. What does he do until your arrive?

Most likely, he gets a snack or talks on the phone. Maybe he watches
TV, but since you're not there, you worry. Just like the majority of
American parents who work and have to leave their children on their
own after school everyday, you are anxious about your child's safety.
But by following the safeguards listed below, you can help ease some
of this worry and take measures that will protect your kids even when
you're not around.”

This implies that it is legal to leave a child as young as ten years
old at home in the city of Los Angeles, and in Los Angeles County. 
However, I could not find any law specifying a minimum age.

Subject: Re: Leaving a child home alone
From: googlenut-ga on 29 Dec 2002 11:15 PST
Oops.  That LAPD link doesn't work and I coudln't get a link directly
to that document.  To get to it, go to and
search for 'home' and 'alone'  make sure to include the word 'and' in
your search.

Subject: Re: Leaving a child home alone
From: expertlaw-ga on 29 Dec 2002 12:28 PST
>>> Here is what I'm getting at, so please allow me to rephrase the
question.  It is illegal in Los Angeles, CA to leave a 12 year old
child alone at home (for lets say, one 24 hour period)? If yes, at
what age does it become 'not' illegal. <<<

I believe what you will find is that there are no magic ages.
California does not treat being left home alone in the same manner as
obtaining a driver's license. Depending upon the child and the
circumstances, very different conclusions can be drawn as to whether
leaving the child at home alone would constitute neglect.

At one extreme, you will find twelve-year-olds who can take very good
care of themselves. At the other, you will find twelve-year-olds who,
if left alone, become a danger to themselves or to others. What might
hold true for most twelve-year-olds will not hold true for all of
them, and an inappropriate decision by a parent will not be excused
merely because the child has reached a particular age.

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