Like many states, Georgia does not have a law mandating a cutoff age for leaving a child unattended at home or in a car. But child care experts and law enforcement officials say there are things to consider before doing so.
Children 8 years old or younger should never be left alone at home even for a short time, and a parent’s discretion should be used for older children, according to guidelines from Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services. No child, no matter the age or self-dependence, should ever be unattended in a car, even if the air conditioner is running.
The issue of leaving children unattended has been spotlighted by recent incidents locally and statewide.
Earlier this week, two Augusta mothers were charged with deprivation of a minor in separate incidents after leaving their children unattended. On Monday around 10:30 p.m., Laquita Lakey Tart left her 2-year-old son standing on a street corner.
Another mother, Lyndia Joyce Lytle, left her daughters, ages 12 and 15, in her vehicle while she went to work a nightshift at Wal-Mart. The 15-year-old told police she grew scared and called 911 after unsuccessfully looking for her mother in the store.
Last week, a 2-week-old child was rescued from the back of a locked SUV while her mother, Alicia Manigault, of Augusta, took an exam at Virginia College. She was charged Thursday with first-degree cruelty to children.
Richmond County Sheriff’s Sgt. Shane McDaniel said parents who leave children unattended can be charged with cruelty to children, reckless conduct or deprivation of a minor. Charges, if warranted, are determined on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“Take into consideration if the child can help itself,” McDaniel said.
Susan Boatwright, a spokeswoman for Georgia DFCS, said the department receives more reports of children left at home during summer months.
Reg Griffin, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s Bright From the Start, said the state has programs to prevent children from being unattended while parents work. Low-income families can apply for childcare subsidies through the Children and Parent Services, or CAP, program.
“There is money available to assist families looking for a job or going to work,” Griffin said.
Parents take a great risk leaving children in a car, even if only for a minute to run inside a store or pay for gas, Griffin said. A running car can be stolen with a child inside, he said.
“It’s just not worth the few minutes it would take to round them up,” he said.