At what age can a child stay home after school on their own?

A B.C. Supreme Court Judge has supported a Social Worker’s conclusion that children under the age of 10 should not be left on their own.

This conclusion is based on the September 15, 2015 Reasons For Judgment in a Terrace family law case.  The case involved a single parent (B.R.), who allowed her 8 year old son to stay home alone between 3-5 p.m.  The son (A.K.) walked home after school, and looked after himself until his mother arrived home from work around 5 p.m.

Valerie Powell, from the Canada Safety Council (CSC), recommends that children be at least 10 years of age before they are left unsupervised.  The CSC offers parents an on line checklist to work through with their children, to help prepare them for staying home alone.

Powell noted that provincial laws on the question range between the ages of 10-12.  She stated in a Parents Today article, “Parents really need to make this decision based on a child’s maturity level. Both the parent and the child has to feel confident about the decision.”

In Terrace, a Social Worker became aware that A.K. was at home alone, after school, for two hours. She spoke with the child’s mother, but the mother did not allow the Social Worker to speak with the child.

The Social Worker then successfully applied to the court for a 6 month Supervision Order, under the Child Family and Community Services Act (CFCSA).  The CFCSA is the legislation that governs Child Protection.

For further information on the Ministry for Children and Families, Child Protection Programs and Processes, consult their on line MCFD-Child Protection Handbook “What You Need to Know About Investigation”.

The Social Worker in this case expressed concern that the child’s lack of supervision could put him in danger, for example by poisoning or fire risk.

The mother, B.R., tried to argue that the child’s individual maturity and characteristics should have played a role in the decision.  However, the fact that she did not allow the Social Worker to interview the child at the time, worked against her.

Justice Punnett noted, “The Director further submits that had the social worker been allowed to interview the child, the Director might have been satisfied the child was not at risk.”

Mr. Butterfield, a family lawyer with 15 years experience stated, “It generally works out best for families when they work with the Social Worker assigned to their case.”

Why Is This Case Important For Child Protection Cases & Family Law?

  1.  It may be interpreted that it sets a general guideline of the minimum age of 10 for children to be left home alone.
  2. It clarifies that children’s individual strengths and maturity might be considered, but that this should be assessed by the Child Protection Social Worker.
  3. It identifies that Social Workers need not be classified as “Expert Witnesses” in order for their evidence to be admitted to the court at the “Presentation Stage”.
  4. It appears as though the court errs on the side of protection, when Social Workers apply for a Supervision or Protection Order.
  5. It clarifies that the rules and weight of evidence is considerably different for a “Presentation Hearing” as opposed to a “Protection Hearing”:

“It is clear that at a presentation hearing, the Director need not show, and the Court need not conclude, that the child is actually in need of protection in order for a supervision order to issue under s. 29.1. Rather, the burden on the Director merely requires that there be admissible evidence which, if accepted, could lead to a finding that the child is in need of protection: British Columbia (Director, Child, Family and Community Services) v. J.C., 2014 BCSC 496 at para. 21.(Reasons For Judgement in this Appeal Hearing).

Jayne Embree, M.A.

Jayne holds a Masters in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist. She is currently working with the Administrative and Human Resources Departments of Butterfield Law.