What Does Minnesota Law Say About Leaving Children Home Alone?

//What Does Minnesota Law Say About Leaving Children Home Alone?

Macaulay Caulkin in Home Alone. Source: TMDB (The Movie Database)

This post was updated on 9-24-14 to reflect information received from Pam Orren at Hennepin County on DHS Child Maltreatment Screening Guidelines, which include practice guidelines for leaving children unsupervised. Thanks Pam! New additions to this post are underlined. —Heidi

I decided to write about Minnesota policy on leaving children home alone, without adult supervision, based on the numerous articles I’ve read over the summer about lack of supervision and child welfare intervention.

What makes this topic tricky is that like nearly every other state in the U.S., Minnesota does not have an explicit law pertaining to the specific age at which children can be left home alone. Illinois sets this age at 14, Maryland at 8, and Oregon at 10. For the most part though, cities, counties, and states tend to look at a variety of factors, including age, when determining whether a specific child can be left home alone, unsupervised.

As you read this post, please keep in mind that this post is intended only to provide information, not to advise or provide any kind of guidance.

A State-Supervised, County-Administered System Means County-Specific Policies

Minnesota has a state-supervised, county-administered child welfare system. The Minnesota legislature passes laws, the Governor of Minnesota signs them (or vetoes them), and the Minnesota Department of Human Services establishes general rules, policies, and guidelines based on these laws and best practices. Each county may then develop these rules and policies further so that they fit within the context of each county.

For example, while Minnesota law lays out generally what is required in independent living plans for older youth in foster care (Minn. Stat. 260C.212, Subd. 1(c)(11)), Minnesota DHS provides training and best practices for counties, and in turn each county develops agency-specific rules and policies that allow workers to consider the unique needs of each youth in their caseload as well as available resources within their county.

If Each County is Unique, How Do I Know When I Can Leave My Kid(s) Home Alone?

While Minnesota statute includes ‘lack of age-appropriate supervision’ as a form of neglect, it does not—as stated earlier—specify the age at which a child can be left unsupervised:

A parent, legal guardian, or caretaker who willfully deprives a child of necessary food, clothing, shelter, health care, or supervision appropriate to the child’s age, when the parent, guardian, or caretaker is reasonably able to make the necessary provisions and the deprivation harms or is likely to substantially harm the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health is guilty of neglect of a child and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both. (Source: Minn. Stat. 609.378, Subd. 1 (a)(1))

(See this webpage for additional legal-related resources.)

County-Specific Policies, Based on DHS Screening Guidelines

Each county will define ‘lack of age-appropriate supervision’ differently, but generally based on the DHS Child Maltreatment Screening Guidelines. If you have questions related to age-appropriate supervision, contact your county social services agency and ask to talk to someone about this.

For example, Dakota County has developed its own policies pertaining to lack of age-appropriate supervision. Their policy, like Hennepin County’s policy, is taken nearly word-for-word from the DHS Screening Guidelines. The guidelines pertaining to lack of supervision can be found on page 17 under letter I, “Failure to Provide Necessary Supervision or Child Care Arrangements.” Differences between Dakota County’s policy and the DHS Screening Guidelines are highlighted below.

First and foremost, Dakota County guidelines state that whether they decide to investigate or assess a report concerning lack of supervision depends on a variety of factors, including the child’s maturity level, the child’s reaction to being left home alone or caring for other children, whether a responsible adult can be reached and if the child has the means to reach the adult (phone, phone number, etc.), and the kinds of activities in which the child is engaged (using a stove, for example). These factors are outlined in the DHS Screening Guidelines. The guidelines also consider various safety features of the home, such as the existence of fire detectors.

Dakota County does lay out (in consideration of the aforementioned factors) the age at which children can be left home alone, and how many hours are appropriate for a child to be left home alone based on the child’s age. They state that reports will be investigated when they involve:

  • children age 7 and younger left alone for any period of time
  • children age 8–9 who are alone for more than 2 hours
  • children age 10–13 alone for more than 12 hours
  • children age 14–17 who are unsupervised while parents are absent for more than 24 hours (the guidelines state that “these reports will be screened, considering adequate adult back-up supervision”)

The guidelines do state that kids ages 11-14 may babysit younger children, provided that the caregiver is meant to return later that day and the children know this. They also state that kids ages 15 and older can babysit younger children for more than 24 hours.

The difference between this policy and the DHS Screening Guidelines is that the guidelines do not require screening in reports under these conditions; rather, they state that reports may be screened in. The DHS Screening Guidelines also have slightly different age ranges and number of hours allowed for both being left alone unsupervised and being allowed to babysit. For example, the DHS Screening guidelines place 8- to 10-year-olds in the same category, and specify the number of hours at which a report may be screened in for lack of supervision to more than 3 hours, rather than more than 2.

Other Resources Available

Child Care Aware, an agency in Minnesota that helps families across the state find quality child care, states that counties in Minnesota tend to recommend that children younger than 12 not be left home alone. Additionally, most child care centers that offer school-age care do so up to age 12. Child Care Aware also provides a Home Alone Checklist for parents to use to determine whether their children are physically and emotionally ready to be left home alone for any period of time.

The University of Minnesota Extension website has a webpage on this topic, where they focus on a child’s physical and emotional readiness for being left home alone.

Finally, at the national level, the Child Welfare Information Gateway has a factsheet from 2013 providing guidance on leaving your child home alone.

What are some special considerations one might have for children and youth in foster care? If you work in a county child welfare agency, how do you advise foster, adoptive, and birth parents in making this decision regarding the older youth in their care?

By | 2016-12-01T19:33:01+00:00 August 26th, 2014|Categories: Child Welfare Policy|Tags: , , , |38 Comments

About the Author:

Heidi Ombisa Skallet, MSW, LISW, was the Outreach Coordinator at CASCW from 2011-2015. She received her Master of Social Work degree in Community Practice & Child Welfare from the University of Minnesota in 2011. Her areas of interest include child welfare systems reform, Indian child welfare, family & economic policy, early childhood policy, and international social work policies & practices.

38 Comments

  1. Jesusloveme September 8, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    I am visiting worried mn. And I have 2 kids. 13&7 can my 13 years old babysit his brother for 8 hours when I go to work? I just really need this job

    • Korina Barry September 18, 2017 at 11:55 am

      Hello,

      Each county has a different policy around this. What county are you in?

  2. valerie white March 24, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    can my 12 yr old watch my 9 and 6 yr old why we run due arrons
    aitkin county mn

    • Korina Barry August 22, 2017 at 9:47 am

      Hi,

      Each county has their own policy around this, we would recommend calling Aitkin County directly to determine what the policy is. You can reach them at 218-927-7200 or child.family.social.services@co.aitkin.mn.us. Thank you.

  3. Sarah Fredrick January 29, 2017 at 10:53 am

    My son is 8 in pine county. He will be alone for like 20 minutes when he gets home from school. Is that ok?

    • Korina Barry August 22, 2017 at 9:50 am

      Hello,

      We would recommend calling Pine County directly to determine what their policy is. Each county in the state has developed their own policy and ages range across counties. You can reach them at 320-591-1570. Thank you.

  4. Nina December 29, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    What are the rules for leaving a 13, 12, and 11 year old home alone for10 hours. In kill lace county

    • Korina Barry January 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      Hello,

      I am sorry, for which county are you looking for guidelines?

  5. Perky December 27, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    What are the guidelines for kids being babysat by a 12 year old in EGF Mn?

    • Korina Barry January 13, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Hello,

      You can call Polk County Social Services-East Grand Forks office at 218-773-2431 to determine their county policies for this situation.

      Thank you.

  6. Amrin November 26, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    I am 10 and almost 11 is it still illegal to babysit kids for me?

    • Korina Barry January 13, 2017 at 3:12 pm

      Hello,

      Which county do you live in?

  7. Lee Holmes November 17, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Hi, my daughter is 7 years old and just informed me that her father has her getting off the school bus and walking home alone where no one is for several hours. They live in an area in Saint Paul where a 6 year old girl was snatched up and raped for her parents doing this same thing. What should I do?

    • Korina Barry December 7, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Hi Lee,

      You can contact Ramsey County Child Protection directly to discuss their policy and report any concerns you have. The business hours line is 651-266-4500 and the after hours line is 651-291-6795. Thank you.

  8. Mary October 17, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Hi,
    I have a 12 year old son and 9 year old son. Whenever my husband and I want to go out for movies or just go out, they don’t want to come with us. They just want to stay home and play Xbox or they rather just want to be home. We’re in Rochester MN, I’m wondering if it’s okay to leave them home just for the time we’re out no longer than 4 hours? Please let me know if you have a number I can call to find out what age appropriate to leave them home. Thank you!

    • Korina Barry January 13, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      Hi Mary,

      You can contact Olmsted County child protection directly at507 328-6400 to determine the county policy for leaving a child home alone.

      Thank you.

  9. Amber September 16, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    What are the guidlines in fillmore county. 11 and 5 year old home alone at night

    • Korina Barry December 7, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Hi Amber, you can contact Fillmore County directly regarding their policy. Fillmore County Social Services
      (507) 765-2175. Thank you.

  10. Mackenzie September 5, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    My brother wants to leave his 6 year old unattended after school alone in Hennepin County, is this okay? I’m having a hard time finding their policies. He’s arguing there’s no specific law so it’s okay.

    • Korina Barry September 7, 2016 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Mackenzie, each county has different guidelines. You can contact Hennepin County to clarify their guidelines for this issue at 612-348-3552. Thank you.

  11. Lawrence Forseth June 6, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    My ex wife is leaving my 11yr old daughter and 5yr old daughter home alone overnight while she goes to work.. Is that legal? Its in mille lacs county

    • Korina Barry June 9, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      Hi Lawrence, you can contact Mille Lacs County Child Protection with your concerns. To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call 320-983-8208 during business hours. After normal business hours, you can contact the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office at 320-983-8250. Thank you.

    • adam saylor July 26, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      Can u let me kno what they said ?? I’m going throw the same thing

      • Korina Barry September 7, 2016 at 12:56 pm

        Hi Adam, which county do you reside in?

  12. Graciela June 6, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Hi i live in Anoka county and i have 5 kids my oldest is almost 12 in september and i have a 10,9,8 and 5 , can they stay alone in home while i work ? I work from 7 to 3 :30 some days until 5 pm

    • Korina Barry June 9, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Graciela,

      Each county has different guidelines. You can contact Anoka County to clarify their guidelines for this at 763-422-7125. Thank you.

  13. Hi May 31, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    What age can I leave my kids home alone in Ramsey county, MN?

    • Korina Barry June 9, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Hello,

      Each county has different guidelines. You can contact Ramsey County to clarify their guidelines for this at 651-266-4500. Thank you.

  14. Hope April 4, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    What are the guidelines in Wright County, MN? I am curious as I have 3 children (14, 11, and 10) and was offered an overnight job that would force me to leave my kids home alone overnight and I want to make sure it’s ok to do that before I accept the job. My 14 year old isn’t known for making wise choices and has been caught drinking alcohol and sneaking out to be with high school boys.

    • Korina Barry April 21, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Hi Hope- I would contact Wright County directly to ask about their guidelines. You can reach them at 763-682-7400. Thank you.

  15. Surrey March 26, 2016 at 3:35 am

    When my child was four years old she was left at her fathers house alone. She told me about it but didn’t remember the day. Nothing was done regarding it. I called the Dakota county child protection services, they went to his house then told me everything looked clean…he didn’t get any reprocusions. Now he is verbally abusive to her to the point of her being afraid of him. He has told me and her she has no say with anything. When she visits him, he is trying to keep the call under a two minute mark. She told me she is afraid of him. But still nothing is being done. He is also trying to take her to his home country for a “visit”.

    • Korina Barry April 21, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      Hi Surray, I am sorry to hear that. You can continue to contact Dakota County Child Protection with your concerns. To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call 952-891-7459. You can also call the Department of Human Services, 651-431-2000.

  16. Lisa February 9, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Can a 11 year old be home with numbers to call in MN I am going in to get my ankle worked on since was broken

    • Korina Barry February 12, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Hello Lisa, every county is different. We would recommend you contact your county directly. We can help get you the contact information if you need it.

  17. courtney July 30, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    What are the guidelines for sherburne county?

    • Heidi Ombisa Skallet August 18, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Courtney, your best bet would be to check with Sherburne County directly. It looks like their contact info is:

      Phone: 763-765-4000
      Email: hhs@co.sherburne.mn.us

  18. willow November 3, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    thank you so much its nice to be more clear on whats ok.

  19. Colleen Doescher-Train August 26, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you so much for this blog post. As I live in Hennepin County, I have found that there are not “specific guidelines” that are to be adhered to, which makes enforcement tricky.

Comments are closed.