Thursday, October 10, 2002

home alone

Here's a quiz question for you...In Delaware, at what age may you let your child be alone?

Well, it is unlawful to "abandon" a child of less than 16 years of age. In this context, "abandon" means to leave a child unattended with the intention not to return (ever). (11 Del.C. 1101.)

But if you don't intend for it to be permanent, by the letter of the law you can't leave a child without supervision until they reach 18. This is a very vague section (11 Del.C. 1102.), especially with respect to this issue. In fact, it doesn't specifically talk about it at all.

In practice, there may be an informal policy by the Division of Family Services not to suggest prosecution when children are age 12 and above, except in unusual circumstances. This is a policy, however, and not available to the public, according to a helpline social worker I spoke with. Her supervisor on the other hand, offered to mail me their new policy manual when it gets revised in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, at the link above, I found that DFS has its policy manuals online. This particular policy is at page 14 of the User Manual. Don't you just love it when our government workers refuse to permit us to see a policy that effects us? Here, the policy had already been posted on the internet. I wonder if the refusal had more to do with ignorance and laziness than actual reason. I am referring here to the intial contact worker, not to the supervisor. The supervisor was appropriate and helpful. Shouldn't the line worker be that way?

What does it mean to leave a child alone? Just what it says: you can't leave a child unsupervised in your car or home while you run into the store; you can't leave a child unsupervised if you have to leave for work before they have left for school; you can't leave a child unsupervised to walk to school or wait at the bus stop; you just cannot leave a child alone period.

I suspect in this county alone that there are tens of thousands of children, every school day, who are left alone at bus stops or walk to school alone. Technically, I think this is a violation of the law on the part of the parents, guardians (or whomever has undertaken the responsibility to care for that child). Should the police arrest those tens of thousands of parents each day?

If not, where is the rule or law that we can look to so as to be able to determine what is legal and what is not legal? (I take as a given for the purpose of this limited discussion that we as parents will make our parental but not legal analysis based upon our parental judgment. And so here I am only referring to the legal analysis.)

Should we rely upon a policy of DFS? Should that policy be posted in the open at schools and other public places? Have we delegated the law making authority to the employees of a State Agency that has a huge turnover rate? Or any State Agency?

This ambiguity troubles me greatly.

I found this helpful article online. While it covers these topics using Maryland law, the general discussion is pretty good.

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