Home Alone: Parents must pick the right time

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Twice in the past two weeks, local authorities have handled cases in which children 10 or younger have been left alone to care for themselves or even younger children for extended periods.

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Julianna Meyers, 12 (from left), Shelby Valentine, 13, and Caitlyn Smoldt, 12, practice CPR technique during baby-sitting class. More courses will be offered in September and October.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Julianna Meyers, 12 (from left), Shelby Valentine, 13, and Caitlyn Smoldt, 12, practice CPR technique during baby-sitting class. More courses will be offered in September and October.

On July 15, two Augusta parents were charged with deprivation of a minor after an 8-year-old boy wandered to a neighbor's house looking for his parents. The police report said the boy's parents had been gone three hours while he was left alone with a 6-year-old and a 7-month-old.

On Thursday, a Hephzibah woman was arrested and charged with three counts of deprivation of a minor after being accused of leaving three children unattended at Diamond Lakes Park. The woman left a 10-year-old girl, a 5- or 6-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl at the park at 8 a.m. and told them she'd back after work at 3:30 p.m. An officer found the children unsupervised and without food and water at 11 a.m. They were turned over to the Division of Family and Children Services.

When school is out for the summer, some financially strapped parents leave children alone rather than pay for day camps or child care. Even when school resumes in a few weeks, parents might wonder whether their child is old enough to be at home alone after school or to supervise younger siblings.

There's no simple answer.

According to the National Child Care Information Center, only two states -- Maryland and Illinois -- have laws that set age limits for when children can be left home on their own. State agencies in Georgia and South Carolina offer guidelines and recommend that parents consider factors beyond age, such as a child's maturity and level of responsibility.

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services' policy states that children 8 and younger should not be left alone. Children 9 to 12 may be left alone for short periods, and children 13 and older can be left alone or in charge of other children.

DFCS evaluates reports of child abuse and determines whether a child-neglect investigation is warranted. Lack of adult supervision is the most common type of neglect investigated by the agency, according to Child Protective Services. If reports are substantiated, the division determines whether it is safe for the child to remain in the home. If not, the agency may petition juvenile court to remove the child.

DFCS provides reports of neglect to local police.

When trying to determine whether any laws have been broken, Richmond County Sheriff's Office Lt. Scott Peebles said police consider factors such as the age and maturity level of the child, the place the child is left, the time of day and length of time left.

"If a child is left to their own devices for 10 hours per day that's a lot different than someone who's gone around the corner for 30 minutes," he said. "We have to use common sense."

If the child's health or well-being was jeopardized, the parents can be charged with first-degree cruelty to children, abandonment of the child, and child endangerment, authorities said.

WITH SCHOOL RESUMING , Rene Hopkins, the coordinator of Safe Kids East Central, one of 22 Safe Kids coalitions in Georgia, said her organization is concerned parents will cut day care costs and allow children to stay at home alone before they're ready.

"But at what other costs?" she said.

Safe Kids recommends not leaving children younger than 12 alone. Children ages 7-10 shouldn't be left alone for longer than 10 or 15 minutes, and no child that age should be left alone overnight.

More than age, maturity level and readiness of the child should be considered, said Ms. Hopkins, a registered nurse.

If your child told you he heard noises while you were out, or had nightmares after a discussion of staying alone, he's not ready to be on his own, Ms. Hopkins said.

Your child also should know how to react in case of a fire, how to answer the phone, and what to do if someone is at the door.

"These are things we need to make sure our child knows before we even consider leaving them home alone," she said.

Children 12-15 are still at risk, Ms. Hopkins said. They should make sure to secure doors once they're inside and keep their keys out of sight.

Leaving an older child in charge of younger siblings may require even more maturity and preparation. Children who are baby-sitting must be able to follow directions and make good decisions using their own initiative. If a sibling rivalry is strong, it's not going to get better if one child is in a position of authority, Ms. Hopkins said.

DEBBIE, a North Augusta resident, has gradually prepared her 12-year-old daughter to stay at home alone.

When her daughter started middle school last fall, Debbie left her on her own while she went to the grocery store. She gradually extended the time she was gone, and her daughter showed she could follow instructions without prodding, such as completing homework. Safety issues were discussed in advance, over a long period.

Before being allowed to baby-sit, the 12-year-old needed to get along with her younger sister, take a baby-sitting safety course and be able to recall certain safety procedures. She has already gained some child-care skills while helping in the church nursery, her mother said.

Now that her daughter has mastered those skills and taken the course at Trinity Hospital of Augusta, she'll be allowed to begin baby-sitting when school starts, her mother said.

Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or sarah.owen@augustachronicle.com.

HOME ALONE: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

AGE LIMITS

- According to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, children 8 and younger should not be left alone.

- Children 9 to 12 may be left alone for short periods of time, and children 13 and older can be left alone or in charge of other children.

- The Children's Trust of South Carolina, a state agency charged with preventing child abuse and neglect, also recommends that children younger than 9 never be left alone.

BEING PREPARED

Before being left on their own at home, children should know:

- Their full name

- Address

- Telephone number

- Parent or guardian's full name

- Parent or guardian's work telephone and work address

- How to call 911

- How to secure the house

- Internet safety skills, such as knowing not to give out contact information or let strangers know they are alone at home

- The rules for using the stove or oven, though use should be avoided or kept to a minimum

TIPS FOR LATCH-KEY KIDS

- Don't disclose to visitors or people on the phone that you're home alone.

- Don't label a house key with your address.

- Set up a check-in time or system through which you contact a parent or a neighbor to let someone know you're home.

Comments (43) Add comment
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Mulanrouge25
1
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Mulanrouge25 07/27/09 - 03:33 am
0
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I just don't even know what

I just don't even know what to say about this one!!

mommie2
2
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mommie2 07/27/09 - 07:28 am
0
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Me either. I'm just shocked

Me either. I'm just shocked that an 8 year old was left alone with a baby.

andywarhol
0
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andywarhol 07/27/09 - 07:42 am
0
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I didn't even read it all.

I didn't even read it all. It seems they are making excuses for the parents. No matter how bad things get for me financially I'm NOT going to do that to my children!

Townie
1
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Townie 07/27/09 - 08:03 am
0
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Sometimes you have to do what

Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. You people who condemn a latch-key practice are the very people that rallied to cut the day-care subsidy funding. Even before and after-school programs at school cost $50 a week per child. That could very well be their grocery money for the week. Unless you have walked in the shoes of the poor, you will never know the anquish of the poor parents.

redapples
660
Points
redapples 07/27/09 - 08:44 am
0
0
I am not able to come up with

I am not able to come up with any reasonable excuse for dropping those young children off at a public park for 7+ hours unsupervised!

Hellrayzor30
0
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Hellrayzor30 07/27/09 - 09:18 am
0
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i understand daycare is

i understand daycare is expensive, but if you know you don't make enough money to provide this for your child, then why in God's name do you lay down and have more kids than you can afford. where is the Father and why is he not providing some kind of help. i mean really. kids now a days are not mature enough to watch their ownselves much less watch a baby. my god what do you have for brains?

One who cares
0
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One who cares 07/27/09 - 09:35 am
0
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I am really appalled that any

I am really appalled that any MOTHER would leave a 10, 6 and 1 year old at a park all day---Who in there right mind would leave children that young anyplace but with a Granny, Nana, Nanny or childcare person. If something would have happened she would be the first to try and SUE Richmond County. If the truth be known they probably have 3 different fathers not daddy (becasue a daddy would not let that happen) and the mother who is not a mommy in this case is not even aware of the whereabouts of these sorry guys. Ya know wnybody can father a child but it takes a special person to be a DADDY, and concerned parents would not do this sort of abuse. If any of our girls would have done that my husband would take the children and that would be the bottom line.
I hope everyone learned a lesson and I hope Richmond County Sheriff's Dept makes a big deal out of this case, IT IS UNCALLED FOR - FIND A SITTER OR NANNY and IF YOU DON'T WANT THE 1 AND 5 YEAR OLD LET SOMEONE ELSE HAVE THEM--jerk!!!

FallingLeaves
27
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FallingLeaves 07/27/09 - 09:38 am
0
0
I agree with redapples that

I agree with redapples that children those ages shouldn't be left alone in a park. Sure go ahead and follow those age guidelines for leaving kids alone at home, too. I wouldn't. Minor children should not be left unsupervised. Unfortunately, sometimes they are, since mothers are expected to work outside the home and daycare is something most divorced mothers can't afford, as well as single mothers. On the other hand, I know a man who voluntarily left minor children in a hotel room for hours, he didn't tell them where he was going or when he would be back. Needless to say, he is now an ex-husband and the ex-wife is the custodial parent. I wish these posters would keep in mind that sometimes you can afford the children at the time you have them and then, after they are born, things happen, like husbands die, jobs disappear, husbands leave the mothers of their children for their college sweethearts while in their mid-life crisis, disabilities occur. Yeah, go head blame the mother for everything, just because she is the one left trying to be responsible for the lives the "man" has abandoned. LIFE is what happens while you've been making other plans.

workingmom
0
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workingmom 07/27/09 - 09:50 am
0
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I agree with you redapples.

I agree with you redapples. There is no excuse for leaving children that young alone in a park!

AAQueen
18
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AAQueen 07/27/09 - 10:21 am
0
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I agree that the mother

I agree that the mother showed poor judgement in leaving the children in the park. I wonder why she didn't leave them at home?
Even then something could have happen to them. Most parents when they do this don't prepare the children.
My children and grandchildren have all been latch key kids but only at the age of 12 and older although there were 10 and 9 year old siblings they had to look after. Also a neighbor was enlisted to check on them twice a day and also to call for emergency if I couldn't be reached. The neighbor did this for two oyher familie in the block and would let the parents know when she wouldn't be around which was seldom since sh was a stay at home mom. It really do take a village to raise a chil.

Now in some neighborhoods this is not safe because your neighbor may be a phedophile.

irish62009
0
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irish62009 07/27/09 - 10:45 am
0
0
This a a real catch 22

This a a real catch 22 situation for a single mother.If you go to work you have to have child care if you don't go to work you can't afford to live. It's easy to say make the fathers help but you can't put your kids on hold while you take them to court.I agree these are extreme cases,but unless you have walked in these shoes you have no idea how hard this kind of life is.

augrichgal
300
Points
augrichgal 07/27/09 - 11:06 am
0
0
I would not leave a small

I would not leave a small child with another small child...but daycare is out of this world. when you are working and have more than one child daycare age and there is no help to be given by the government, there are sacrifices on all sides.
I work, supposedly make to much for food stamps or daycare assistance, but yet have no money left a month for daycare. Ramen noodles only comes in so many flavors, wish our new Prez would see this side instead of only trying to help those on gov assistance or unemployment.

The Ode
2
Points
The Ode 07/27/09 - 12:01 pm
0
0
augrichgal and townie - IF

augrichgal and townie - IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD CHILDREN DON'T HAVE THEM! I'm appalled anybody would think that the government i.e taxpayers should provide free/subsidized daycare for your children. The socialist mentality is off the chain around here.

whyme
1786
Points
whyme 07/27/09 - 12:13 pm
0
0
Here is one problem: when

Here is one problem: when kids start middle school, they are often too old for the local afterschool day care centers but too young in age to stay at home though many, like my child, was mature enough to come in & follow my rules until I got home. I was fortunate enough to change my work hours so that she's not home very long by herself. Ode, there's a happy medium between condemning all single parents when the circumstances vary-i.e. a woman widowed suddenly who has to return to work and would benefit from temporary assistance-and supporting some who take advantage of the system...and harm their kids in the long run.

InChristLove
22473
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InChristLove 07/27/09 - 12:31 pm
0
0
I agree something needs to be

I agree something needs to be done to help working single mothers concerning child care but saying if you can't afford them, don't have them. Sometimes circumstances occurr after the child/children are born. What are they suppose to do, shove them back into the womb. Never is it okay to leave small children at a park all day...what was this mother thinking!! There are too many weirdos out there and what happens if one of the children were to get hurt or sick.

soldout
1280
Points
soldout 07/27/09 - 12:37 pm
0
0
I have never seen a couple

I have never seen a couple fail who decided they could live off one salary and leave one parent at home to care for children. It makes for a more peaceful home. Being a giver is the key in receiving God's blessing to do this. He says trust me, try me and prove me. If you try it, you will like it and God will provide. I have never seen it fail when done by a Christian. Ask God if you can do it and listen for his answer. There is nothing that will replace the time you aren't with your children.

The Ode
2
Points
The Ode 07/27/09 - 01:13 pm
0
0
Circumstances? Everybody has

Circumstances? Everybody has to deal with change and circumstances. It doesn't justify people wanting more handouts. If you don't have the money, the insurance, a rainy day fund, a support system of friends/relatives, or a plan on what you are going to do when you have a child, when your child gets sick, when your child reaches a certain age, when you divorce, when your spouse dies, etc then once again you have no business having a child and expecting the taxpayer to support you.

andywarhol
0
Points
andywarhol 07/27/09 - 01:48 pm
0
0
How do yall know that the

How do yall know that the father isn't paying $1000/month in child support? I used to pay over $600/month for ONE Child only to find she had not toothbrush, shoes that fit, or food in the ref. And Townie, it's people like you that would do this. How can you find any reason at all to do this to a child?

gnx
7
Points
gnx 07/27/09 - 02:08 pm
0
0
It's appalling any parent

It's appalling any parent would even dream of leaving their children unattended in a public area without resources for any amount of time, regardless of age. Ode: According to your perfect family planning scheme absolutely no one should consider having a child unless they've got millions in the bank and an endless stream of child care assistants, correct? I can't say I've heard anything more idiotic in my life. Even the most secure circumstances are subject to abrupt change. The majority of single parents who previously thought themselves secure and are now finding themselves not so secure are not the people you should worry about 'wanting handouts'. In fact, they are most likely the people who have been paying into the system for years to support those same handouts and are most likely not going to request them. However, if they truly need those 'handouts' then by all means they should get them. Heaven knows there are enough people out there privileged enough to get funds when they've never worked a day in their lives, so why should we judge people who may be down on their luck and honestly need help?

jack
10
Points
jack 07/27/09 - 03:39 pm
0
0
Townie, if you can't afford

Townie, if you can't afford them, quit spitting them out.

The Ode
2
Points
The Ode 07/27/09 - 03:39 pm
0
0
Ode: According to your

Ode: According to your perfect family planning scheme absolutely no one should consider having a child unless they've got millions in the bank and an endless stream of child care assistants, correct? ---- If you can read then you would know that is now what I said. I said that if you can't afford to raise you offspring without expecting handouts from the taxpayer then don't have them. Poor choices and lack of planning have consequences.

corgimom
32182
Points
corgimom 07/27/09 - 04:21 pm
0
0
Now, my personal viewpoint is

Now, my personal viewpoint is that she wasn't at work, she was involved in something she didn't want her kids to know about, because at 5 and 10, they are old enough to ask questions and blab.

Fiat_Lux
15369
Points
Fiat_Lux 07/27/09 - 04:27 pm
0
0
It's a hard situation. Like

It's a hard situation. Like Baroness said, sometimes things happen that make it hard to take care of your kids the way you once could. What are you supposed to do, put them up for adoption? Go on welfare even though you are able to hold a job, a job that won't pay enough to provide your kids with childcare? Next question: what are you doing to help these women you are so ready to condemn when at least some large portion of them have done all they could on their own? If you haven't done anything except gripe and bellyache about poor people who struggle just for food and shelter, then shut up. You don't have any standing to open your mouth. You don't have a right to an opinion.

GnipGnop1
2
Points
GnipGnop1 07/27/09 - 04:38 pm
0
0
I stayed at home from the

I stayed at home from the time i was 8. Some kids can handle that responsibilty some can't. Though back then all your neighbors knew each other. Leaving them in public is a little different. There has to be a little more to this story.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 07/27/09 - 05:10 pm
0
0
If DFCS really and trully

If DFCS really and trully cared about child safety, they would provide child care for mothers that cannot pay for it. I am sure the mothers involved would gladly let them. But no, that wouldn't make a mountain out of a mole hill. And if we didn't have problems then we probably wouldn't need DFCS would we.

corgimom
32182
Points
corgimom 07/27/09 - 05:50 pm
0
0
Disssman, there is child care

Disssman, there is child care assistance, but the waiting list is miles long. There isn't enough money to fund it.

The Ode
2
Points
The Ode 07/27/09 - 06:53 pm
0
0
Fiat Lux - it is called

Fiat Lux - it is called social Darwinism and it would work wonders around here. As long as my tax dollars pay for and subsidize the lifestyles of people then yes.....I have the right to voice my opinion.

Bryt
0
Points
Bryt 07/27/09 - 07:49 pm
0
0
I work with a group that

I work with a group that assists homeless young mothers with getting back on their feet. One thing you quickly learn is that even with the "feminist" movement, young ladies are not taught how to become fully self sufficient prior to having children. Situations do very quickly change, your spouse runs dies or runs off with a new partner, your job is cut, etc. Women (and men, too) need to be fully self-supporting before they marry and have children - and preferably in that order. While you can never, ever be 100% ready for all situations, having job skills and some savings in the bank are a good start before you marry and have children.

Fiat_Lux
15369
Points
Fiat_Lux 07/27/09 - 08:49 pm
0
0
To The Odioius: I've never

To The Odioius: I've never been a fan of welfare or any other "Great Society" entitlement program, but when someone is trying to survive without government assistance, they deserve whatever sympathy and support a compassionate society can afford to offer. As far as I can tell, at least the most recent case didn't involve a mother on welfare so your tax dollars weren't helping her out one little bit. Therefore, while you have a right to say just about any stupid thing that finds a path from your filter-free brain to your nimple fingers, the smallest amount of impulse control might have you examine whether you actually SHOULD share it. Heartlessness ranks right up there with gossip in attractiveness of personality traits.

Rose
17
Points
Rose 07/27/09 - 09:13 pm
0
0
When my youngest was in 1st

When my youngest was in 1st grade. I went to work full-time. She was the first one home in the afternoons.She had a key to unlock the gate, and a door key. She would let the dog im the house. she had phone numbers in case of emergency. She knew not to tell anyone she was alone.She was 6 yrs old, and she was fine till I got home from work. She was home about 30 minutes alone. Her dad would call and be sure she was ok.

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