Let Grow surveyed the criminal codes of all of the states and the District of Columbia to determine which states authorize criminal penalties against parents who allow their children to be alone.
Use the alphabetical links here to jump to specific information about your state.
Let Grow surveyed the non-criminal neglect laws (under a variety of juvenile court, dependency court, family court and administrative laws) that are enforced by child protection authorities under a variety of different codes to find out when children can be labeled “neglected” if their parents allow them to be alone.
Use the alphabetical links here to jump to specific information about your state.
Criminal Law: Alabama’s Criminal Code 13A-13-6 has an odd definition of child endangerment which prohibits children from engaging in a dangerous occupation if they are less than 16 years old. The same code very broadly prohibits children from engaging in conduct that is not “reasonably diligent” or that allows the child to become dependent. In effect, this Code provision treats anyone who meets the broad neglect definition as a potential criminal–an extremely expansive statement of criminal jurisdiction. Using concepts like “dependency” that have such an unlimited sweep is an overly broad approach to criminal culpability. In addition, Alabama Code prohibits leaving a child in a vehicle. (See Code section 13A-11-290, also called the Amiyah White Act).
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Alabama Code § 26-14-1, §26-16-2 explicitly makes lack of supervision a type of neglect.
Criminal Law: Alaska Statutes §11.51.100 provide that endangering the welfare of a child includes intentionally deserting under circumstances creating a substantial risk of physical injury to the child. Second degree child endangerment (Section 11.51.110 of the same code) describes the crime of endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree as any act that would “endanger a child while caring for a child under 10.” On a positive note, a part of the statute (in its Section C) implies that a person over 12 can be a caregiver.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect is defined in Alaska Statute § 47.10.014 as the lack of “other care and control necessary” to a child. This definition extremely vague (and this is mirrored in the CPS Manual 4.16). But the law also includes a much tighter definition at Alaska Statute 47.17.290 (3) which defines “child abuse or neglect” as physical injury or neglect, mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment of a child under the age of 18 by a person under circumstances that indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby; in this paragraph, “mental injury” means an injury to the emotional well-being, or intellectual or psychological capacity of a child, as evidenced by an “observable and substantial impairment in the child’s ability to function.” Alaska has some policy guidance on the DHHS web page that urges “sound judgment” as to when it is safe to leave children unsupervised.
Criminal Law: Arizona Rev. Statute § 13-3619 provides that it is a class 1 misdemeanor to endanger the health or “moral welfare” of a minor under sixteen by neglect, abuse or “immoral associations.” Arizona Rev. Stats. § 13-1201 defines criminal child endangerment as “recklessly endangering another person with a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury.” This is a vague statute that could include decisions to allow a child to be alone, depending on the circumstances.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: “Neglect” or “neglected child” under Arizona Revised Statues Section 8-201(25) includes the inability or unwillingness of a parent, guardian or custodian of a child to provide that child with supervision. Positive guidance in the child welfare manual (Department of Child Safety Guidance) provides a tighter definition of lack of supervision as requiring the child to be left alone “now or on a daily basis” or with a person unwilling or unable to provide adequate care.”
Criminal Law: Arkansas’ Criminal Code provides that it is child endangerment to create a serious risk of death or serious physical injury. The degree of the crime turns on the extent of the harm the person caused. This statement doesn’t specifically list lack of supervision as a crime, but putting a child at a “risk of danger” could be subject to charges under this statute. A.C.A. §5-27-206. Another section makes “endangering the welfare of a minor” a Class B misdemeanor. A.C.A. §5-27-207.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Arkansas law (A.C.A. §9-30-103(4) provides that neglect is failure to provide necessary and proper support. § 12-18-103 (viii) treats neglect as the “Failure to appropriately supervise the child that results in the child’s being placed in:
(a) Inappropriate circumstances creating a dangerous situation; or
(b) A situation that puts the child at risk of harm.
On a positive note, the Arkansas’ Juvenile Court Act contains a preamble/purpose statement which is the Let Grow Model Law, though this law is not enforced through changes in the actual operative definition of neglect.
Criminal Law: California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, at 4 CCR 11164-11174.3 includes threatened harm to a child’s welfare through acts or omissions. Under 4 CCR 11165.3, these acts or omissions include willfully causing or permitting any child to suffer, or inflicting thereon, unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering. 4 CCR § 11164-11174.3. The Reporting Act at 4 CCR 11165.3 makes it a criminal offense, as does the Penal Code at Section 273a, to harm a child. There is no specific offense related to leaving a child alone but the law does authorize criminal penalties for leaving a child in a dangerous environment. A measure known as Kaitlin’s Law specifically prohibits children under six from being left in a car with the keys in the ignition or where there are specific conditions that put the child at risk unless they are with someone over 12 years of age. Vehicle Code 15620.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: California’s criminal code contains the child abuse and neglect definitions in the Penal Code, Part 4,Title 1, Chapter 2 Article 2.5 of which includes “general neglect.” “General neglect” is defined as negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide supervision even where no physical injury to the child has occurred. The lack of necessary care is also considered neglect under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act at 4 CCR 11164-11174.3
Criminal Law: Colorado Revised Statute § 18-6-401 provides that it is a criminal offense to unreasonably place a child in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child’s life or health.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Colo. Rev. Statute § 19-1-103 makes neglect the lack of care that a reasonably prudent parent would provide. Reasonable independence would be more clearly spelled out if H.B. 1147 (promoted by Let Grow) passes. (H.B. 1147 passed the Colorado House in February 2020 but was stalled in the Senate due to the pandemic; it will be reintroduced in 2021.) Colorado Labor Law allows children age 12 to be eligible for employment as a babysitter, Colorado Revised Statutes § 8-12-105(3)).
Criminal Law: Connecticut General Statutes Vol. 13, Tit. 53 forbids leaving a child in a car at a “public accommodation,” and failing to report a missing child; it also defines the age under which children cannot be left alone as 12.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Probate Courts and Procedures at Connecticut General Statutes Vol. 12, Tit. 45(a), Ch. 803 (“Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption”) and “Family Law, Juvenile Matters” at Connecticut General Statutes Vol. 12, Tit. 46(b), Ch. 815, provide that it is neglect for a child to be in an “injurious environment” or be without proper care; inadequate supervision is defined as being left alone for an excessive amount of time given the child’s age and maturity. Unfortunately, this vague law specifically identifies unsupervised children as neglected simply for being left alone, without requiring any showing of harm and without giving guidance for parents to know what an excessive time.
Criminal Law: Delaware Code Title 11, § 1102 makes it a crime to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly act in an “injurious manner” toward a child.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: 10 Delaware Code § 901 makes the lack of “necessary supervision” a form of neglect, depending on the age and circumstances of the child.
Criminal Law: Florida Statute Ann. § 827.03 makes it a crime to fail to provide “necessary supervision.” Fla. Statute Ann. § 316 has a specific provision that makes it a crime to leave a child age 6 or younger in a car for more than 15 minutes or if the child is any age and the car is running or the child is in danger. This latter provision is more lenient than some states, hence seen as a positive aspect of the Florida criminal law. (Compare, for example, with Hawaii’s law concerning children in cars).
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Florida. Stat. Ann. § V-39.6625 provides that neglect is defined broadly as lack of care (food, shelter, medical care), while Fla. Stat. Ann. § V-39.6225 specifies that leaving a child without adult supervision or arrangement appropriate for the child’s age or mental or physical condition, so that the child is unable to care for the child’s own needs or another’s basic needs or is unable to exercise good judgment in responding to any kind of physical or emotional crisis. By focusing on the child’s capabilities, Florida’s law is better suited to allowing children independence than the law of many states. Significantly, the Florida child welfare policy manual also contains reasonable language recognizing that lack of supervision depends on an assessment of the child’s age, maturity, developmental level or mental or physical condition.
Criminal Law: Georgia Code Annotated § 16-5-70 treats only “cruelty to children” as a criminal offense—Georgia does not have a specific endangerment law that covers lack of supervision.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Georgia Code Ann. § 15-11-2(48)(A) defines neglect as the failure to provide proper parental care or control. Section (B) provides that neglect includes the failure to provide a child with adequate supervision necessary for such child’s well-being.
Criminal Law: Hawaii Revised Statutes Annotated § 709 has a typical broad endangerment law that includes any action that recklessly puts a child at risk of harm. It may be broader than many statutes insofar as it explicitly includes harm to a child’s mental welfare. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 291C-121.5 makes it illegal to leave a child under 9 in a car for longer than 5 minutes with no one over 12 in the car.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Hawaii Revised Statutes Annotated § 350-1(1) covers acts or omissions causing “the physical or psychological health or welfare of the child, who is under the age of eighteen, to be harmed, or to be subject to any reasonably foreseeable, substantial risk of being harmed.” Section (d) provides that it is neglect when a child is not provided in a timely manner with supervision.
Criminal Law: Idaho Code Title 18, Section 15 makes it a crime when someone produces great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon a child unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or for a person who has the care or custody of any child, to willfully cause or permit the person or health of such child to be injured, or willfully cause or permit such child to be placed in such situation that its person or health is endangered. Though endangering children is a crime, the code is not specific as to endangerment for lack of supervision, but might be used against parents who let their children be unsupervised.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Idaho’s neglect law, I.C. 1602, contains a prohibition against a child being without “proper care” or control. Idaho law does have an express protection for independent activities for foster youth.
Criminal Law: Illinois Criminal Code at 720 ILCS 5/12C-5 provides that it is criminal endangerment to put children in circumstances that put their life or health in danger. 720 ILCS 5/12C-10 makes abandonment of a child for over 24 hours a crime. Children unattended for more than 10 minutes in a car if under six years old are considered endangered under this section unless accompanied by someone 14 or older.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: 705 ILCS 405/2-2, which contains the Illinois definition of neglect, provides that a child can be deemed neglected if any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor’s welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor. There are many factors listed in the law that affect what is considered “reasonable.” As a result of litigation, Illinois rules defining inadequate supervision create tight definitions of each of the possible ways children can be left alone outside, in the community, at home, in vehicles and with caregivers. 89 Ill. Admin. Code 300/74.
Criminal Law: Indiana Code Annotated § 35-46-1-4 makes it a crime to place a dependent child (for whom the person charged with the crime has legal responsibility) in a situation that endangers the dependent’s life or health. This is a broad and vague law but is not specific as to children left alone.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: A child is considered neglected under Indiana Family Code and Juvenile Law if the child is “seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the inability, refusal, or neglect of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision.” Ind. Code Ann. § 31-34-1-1. Indiana policy very broadly states that child are neglected when they are injured when not supervised, including by being placed with an “inappropriate caregiver” including children over 12. This policy is hard to understand and gives no real guidance to parents.
Criminal Law: It is a crime to willfully deprive a child of necessary supervision when the person is reasonably able to make the necessary provisions and which deprivation substantially harms the child’s physical, mental or emotional health. Iowa Code § 16-726.6. Knowingly causing risk to the child is also considered child endangerment under this section. This law does not specifically identify what necessary supervision includes, and presumably would allow for prosecutions if a child was allowed to be alone and got hurt, effectively making the parent liable for any risk that turned out to lead to a harm, even if unlikely.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Iowa treats as abuse the failure on the part of a person responsible for the care of a child to provide supervision “necessary for the child’s health or welfare when financially able to do so.” Iowa Code § 6-232.68. (This is the “Juvenile Justice in Human Services” law). Further definition provides that abuse is the failure to provide for the adequate supervision of a child and means the person failed to provide proper supervision of a child that a reasonable and prudent person would exercise under similar facts and circumstances and the failure resulted in direct harm or created a risk of harm to the child. Iowa Code § 6-232.68. While this definition is more protective than many, it does not explicitly ensure protection for independent activities.
Criminal Law: Endangering a child is knowingly and unreasonably causing or permitting a child under the age of 18 years to be placed in a situation in which the child’s life, body or health may be endangered. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-5601. While this law does not specify lack of supervision as a crime, it does not exclude cases where any child under 18 was alone and got injured.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect is defined as action or omissions by a parent, guardian, or person responsible for the care of a child resulting in harm to a child, or presenting a likelihood of harm, and the acts or omissions are not due solely to the lack of financial means of the child’s parents or other custodian. This term may include the following, but shall not be limited to: failure to provide adequate supervision of a child or to remove a child from a situation which requires judgment or actions beyond the child’s level of maturity, physical condition or mental abilities and that results in bodily injury or a likelihood of harm to the child. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-2202. Because Kansas limits lack of supervision to cases where there is harm or a likelihood of harm and considers the child’s maturity, and in addition has a very strong policy statement in its child welfare policy manual, Let Grow considers Kansas law one of the most protective of reasonable independence for children.
Criminal Law: Kentucky Revised Statutes Annotated § 508.120 provides it is criminal abuse in the third degree to allow another to be abused by being put in a situation that may cause him serious harm. Endangerment is broadly defined to include the “fail[ure] or refus[al] to exercise reasonable diligence in the control of such child to prevent him from becoming a neglected, dependent or delinquent child.” Ken. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 530.030, A specific statute provides that it is second degree manslaughter to “Leav[e] a child under the age of eight (8) years in a motor vehicle under circumstances which manifest an extreme indifference to human life and which create a grave risk of death to the child, thereby causing the death of the child.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 507.040. Because this law treats broadly defined neglect as criminal conduct without limitations, this is viewed as a very punitive criminal law.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Kentucky’s Unified Juvenile Code provides that neglect is defined as the failure to provide the child with adequate care, supervision, food, clothing, shelter, and education or medical care necessary for the child’s well-being. Section 600.020.
Criminal Law: Louisiana Statutes Annotated § 14: 35.3 does not include a specific law making lack of supervision a criminal offense, except if a child is exposed to a sex offender or involved in a driving under the influence (DUI) incident. This should mean it would be hard to bring a prosecution in Louisiana against a parent who let her child play alone outside. However, it is unlawful for any driver or operator to leave children under the age of six years unattended and unsupervised in a motor vehicle under the motor vehicle code. La. Stat. Ann. § 32:295.3. And the definition of “unattended” is strict: the term “unattended” means a child who has been left in a motor vehicle when the driver or operator of the vehicle is more than ten feet from the vehicle and unable to continuously observe the child. The term “unsupervised” means an unattended child when a person ten years of age or older is not physically present in the motor vehicle.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: “Neglect” under Louisiana law means the lack of necessary “care” which includes lack of supervision under Children’s Code, Article 606(b), though supervision is not specifically listed as a form necessary care in the neglect statute itself. The term supervision–or lack thereof–is used in another section of the law that states that the inability of a parent or caretaker to provide for a child’s basic support, supervision, treatment, or services due to inadequate financial resources shall not, for that reason alone, be considered neglect. Children’s Code Article 502. “Neglect” otherwise means the unreasonable refusal or failure of a parent or caretaker to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, care, treatment, or counseling for any injury, illness, or condition of the child, as a result of which the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and safety is substantially threatened or impaired. At the same time, the Children’s Code Article 606(B) includes lack of supervision, but states that the inability of a parent or caretaker to provide for a child’s basic support, supervision, treatment, or services due to inadequate financial resources shall not, for that reason alone, be considered neglect. Children’s Code Article 502. These potentially slightly different versions of the law (one of which says “care” and the other of which says “supervision”) broadly seem to give discretion to determine a child is neglected by being left alone if there is a “substantial threat” or impairment that the child experiences.
Criminal Law: In Maine, it is a crime to recklessly endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child by violating a duty of care or protection. Violation of this paragraph is a Class D crime. 17A Me. Code Rev. § 553-A.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Maine law limits neglect to “threats to a child’s health or welfare by physical, mental or emotional injury or impairment, sexual abuse or exploitation, including deprivation of essential needs or lack of protection” from these or failure to ensure compliance with school attendance requirements under Title 20-A, section 3272, subsection 2, paragraph B or section 5051-A, subsection 1, paragraph C, 22 Me. Code Rev. § 4002. However, policies show that Maine does treat the lack of supervision even without a high degree of harm as neglect.
Criminal Law: Maryland Family Law §5-801 states that it is a crime to leave a child younger than 8 years old unattended, locked or confined to a home, car, building or other enclosure without proper supervision. The law also states that a child cannot be left unattended without proper supervision by a reliable person at least 13 years of age. These actions are punishable by fines or imprisonment. This is an extremely and unusually explicit punitive statute that criminalizes parental decisions to allow their children to be unsupervised, even for very brief periods.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Maryland Family Law §5-701 states that leaving a child unattended could be considered child neglect, which is defined as failing to give proper care and attention to a child. This is a very broad and vague statement of the law, though it does not explicitly state that specific acts of leaving a child alone are neglect per se. An inflammatory and punitive pamphlet put out by Maryland Child Protective Services states, “Unattended children at any age can get hurt, injured or even killed without proper supervision.” It claims, with reference to the family code, that a child cannot be left unattended without proper supervision by a reliable person at least 13 years of age.
Criminal Law: Our research as to Massachusetts law did not locate a criminal endangerment law or criminal lack of supervision law. There is, however, a crime to abandon a child and that law is interpreted broadly as potentially covering children left alone if they are under 10 years old. See companion juvenile/neglect map for more information about Massachusettes law as reported to Let Grow in its research.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: The Code of Massachusetts Regulations ( i.e., the rules, not statutes) at Title 110 §2 defines neglect as failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., neglect can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting). This is a typical vague neglect law. Massachusetts child abandonment law is interpreted by parents’ groups and criminal law firms to mean it is unlawful to leave a child under age 10 home alone, though the law doesn’t explicitly say so. The abandonment law states, “Whoever abandons an infant under the age of ten within or without any building, or, being its parent, or being under a legal duty to care for it, and having made a contract for its board or maintenance, absconds or fails to perform such contract, and for four weeks after such absconding or breach of his contract, if of sufficient physical and mental ability, neglects to visit or remove such infant or notify the department of his inability to support such infant, shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than two years. …” General Laws, Title XVI-119-39.
Criminal Law: Michigan treats a person’s omission or reckless act that causes physical harm to a child as a crime. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.136b. Michigan prohibits children from being left alone in a car under the age of 13 if they are left for “a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.135a
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect is very broadly defined as “Placing a child at an unreasonable risk to the child’s health or welfare by failure of the parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare to intervene to eliminate that risk when that person is able to do so and has, or should have, knowledge of the risk.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.622. A Michigan Resource Guide for Mandated reporters states that “According to the Child Protection Law, there is no legal age that a child can be left home alone. It is determined on a case-by-case basis, but as a general rule, a child 10 years old and younger is not responsible enough to be left home alone. A child over the age of 10 and under the age of 12 will be evaluated, but the case may not always be assigned for a CPS investigation.” Mandated Reporters’ Resource Guide, Appendix p. 18. Let Grow disagrees with this policy as to most 10-year-olds.
Criminal Law: Minnesota’s Criminal Code (Minn. Stat. 609.378, subd. 1) provides that it is a crime punishable by up to one year in prison or payment of a fine to recklessly or deliberately deprive a child of supervision if that is likely to harm the child mental, physical or emotional health. The “likelihood of harm” provisions of this statute makes it less punitive than some statutes that turn on mere risk of harm (without a showing of “likelihood”) and the lack of any prohibition on children being alone at certain ages is also better than some state laws, though this statute clearly does authorize prosecutions as to some children who are unsupervised.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Minnesota’s child abuse reporting law provides that the failure to provide for necessary supervision or childcare arrangements occurs when a child is unable to provide for their own basic needs or safety, or the basic needs or safety of another child in their care. Minn. Stat. 626.556, subd. 2(g) (3). Minnesota policy says that neglect is broadly defined as “the most common form of maltreatment. It is usually a failure of a child’s caregiver to: Provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical or mental health care, education or appropriate supervision” At the same time, the child welfare agency policy guidance gives more leeway than many states to leave children alone at ages 8 and up. It provides that 8-to-10-year-olds can be left alone for up to three hours (generally), 11-to-13-year-olds can be left alone for up to 12 hours, 14-to-15-year-olds for up to 24 hours, and 16-year-olds for longer than that without running afoul of neglect laws. REFERENCE
Criminal Law: Criminal endangerment is limited to children’s exposure to drugs under Mississippi’s Criminal Code. Miss. Code Ann. § 97.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Mississippi’s Youth Court Act broadly defines a neglected child as one (in section ii) who is otherwise without proper care, custody, supervision or support …and who, (in section iv), for any reason, lacks the care necessary for his health, morals or well-being. Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-105(ii)&(iv).
Criminal Law: Missouri Revised Statutes. § 568 is a typical criminal statute that makes it a crime to put children (under 18) in serious risk of harm and makes it criminal endangerment to fail to provide children (under 17) with necessary care. Supervision is not listed as necessary care specifically, however. Crimes involving children left in vehicles without someone over 14 are limited to crimes in which the unaccompanied child causes an accident. Mo. Rev. Stat. 577.300.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect is defined under Missouri’s Public Heath and Welfare Code, Title XII, RSMo. Section 210.110(12) as the “failure to provide, by those responsible for the care, custody, and control of the child, the proper or necessary support, education as required by law, nutrition or medical, surgical, or any other care necessary for the child’s well-being. Victims of neglect shall also include any victims of sex trafficking or severe forms of trafficking as those terms are defined in 22 U.S.C. 78 Section 7102(9)-(10).” While lack of supervision is not spelled out as a neglect ground per se, a Missouri policy manual refers to neglect as occurring when a person “fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or a result will follow, and such failure constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.” Child Welfare Manual § 7-1 (L12). A brochure provides that Missouri will take hotline calls as to children under 8 left alone.
Criminal Law: Montana Code Annotated § 45 makes it a crime for anyone supervising the welfare of a child less than 18 years old to commit the offense of endangering the welfare of children by knowingly violating a duty of care, protection, or support. This seems to be a very broad, open-ended discretionary law that opens up people to prosecution for many actions without specifically affording notice as to the illegality of the conduct. It basically criminalizes any legal or common law breach of duty towards a child of any age.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: The Youth Court Act in Montana broadly defines “Physical neglect” as either failure to provide basic necessities, including general supervision, or exposing or allowing the child to be exposed to an unreasonable physical or psychological risk to the child. Mont. Code Ann. § 41-3-102(20). Some guidance in Montana’s child welfare brochure is good: It says, “There is no magic age when children develop the maturity and good sense they need to stay home alone. Mature children in a neighborhood with several adult friends nearby may be all right alone for a few hours. For younger children, one hour may be too long. YOU need to decide if the time alone is too much, based on your child and your situation.” REFERENCE: Child Supervision Flyer.
Criminal Law: Nebraska makes it criminal endangerment to leave a child under 6 in a vehicle at any time. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-710. The remainder of the statute defines endangerment as knowing or reckless causing of risk of danger to a child’s physical or mental health. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Nebraska Revised Statute § 43-247 sets out a non-fault based system of adjudications for lack of proper care of a minor which seems extremely broad. It appears that actions affecting care necessary for the health, morals, or well-being can be sufficient to bring children into state custody without clear limits in the law. The law does not single out lack of supervision or set an age limit on when kids can be alone, however.
Criminal Law: Nevada Criminal Code (NRS Title 15) includes as criminal child neglect the act of leaving of a child without proper supervision, food, shelter, medicine, or other necessary care. (NRS 200.508). Child endangerment includes knowingly placing a minor (under 18) in a situation that may harm his/her physical or mental well-being. (NRS 200.508). This is a very broad criminal law. Nevada law seems somewhat more protective than average for children allowed to be alone in cars, however, insofar as it only prohibits leaving children in the car with the engine running or with keys in the ignition if they are under age 7 unless they have someone within eyesight who is 12 or older. (NRS 202.485)
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child occurs if a child has been subjected to harmful behavior that is terrorizing, degrading, painful or emotionally traumatic, has been abandoned, is without proper care, control or supervision or lacks the subsistence, education, shelter, medical care or other care necessary for the well-being of the child because of the faults or habits of the person responsible for the welfare of the child or the neglect or refusal of the person to provide them when able to do so. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 432B.140. Nevada also has some threatening pamphlets and lacks policy guidance to limit child welfare punitive action.
Criminal Law: It is considered criminal endangerment of a child for a person to “knowingly” endanger a child’s welfare by violating a duty of care, protection or support he owes to such child or incompetent person, or by inducing such child or incompetent person to engage in conduct that endangers his health or safety. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 639:3. This is a broad, general statement of criminal liability that could be applied to leaving a child alone.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect is defined as being without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health, when it is established that the child’s health has suffered or is likely to suffer serious impairment; and the deprivation is not due primarily to the lack of financial means of the parents, guardian, or custodian…. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 169-C:3. This is a typical neglect law; it does not specify lack of supervision as “being without proper parental care” but gives broad discretion to include lack of supervision within the understanding of “proper parental care.”
Criminal Law: The New Jersey criminal code makes it a crime for anyone with responsibility for a child’s care to make the child an abused or neglected child (as defined in R.S.9:6-1 , R.S.9:6-3 , and section 1 of P.L.1974, c. 119 ( C.9:6-8.21 ). This statute criminalizes the state’s vague and broad neglect law.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: New Jersey defines neglect very broadly as willfully failing to provide proper and sufficient food, clothing, maintenance, regular school education as required by law, medical attendance or surgical treatment, and a clean and proper home, or failure to do or permit to be done any act necessary for the child’s physical or moral well-being. (Lack of supervision is not specifically enumerated). R.S.9:6-1 , R.S.9:6-3 , and section 1 of P.L.1974, ch. 119 ( C.9:6-8.21). The state’s child welfare website has the broad statement that “lack of supervision is neglect.” The policy manual includes the label of neglect when “Caregiver does not or cannot attend to the child so that care goes unnoticed or unmet (for example: although the caregiver may be present, the child can wander outdoors alone, play with dangerous objects, play on unprotected window ledge, or be exposed to other serious hazards). Caregiver leaves child alone (time period varies with age and developmental stage).” And a policy states “never leave a child in a car even for a minute” (with no age limits/conditions stated) REFERENCE
Criminal Law: New Mexico’s criminal code defines neglect as the lack of “proper parental care and control of subsistence, education, medical or other care or control necessary for the child’s well-being because of the faults or habits of the child’s parents, guardian or custodian or their neglect or refusal, when able to do so, to provide them.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-6-1.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: New Mexico labels a child “neglected” if they are “without proper parental care and control or subsistence, education, medical or other care or control necessary for the child’s well-being because of the faults or habits of the child’s parent, guardian or custodian or the failure or refusal of the parent, guardian or custodian, when able to do so, to provide them.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 32A-4-2
Criminal Law: Criminal endangerment is defined as a “lack of reasonable diligence as to a child under 18” in New York. So, too, is knowingly acting in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child less than seventeen years old. Lack of supervision is not specifically enumerated. (See NY Penal Law § 260.10)
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: New York’s juvenile court/neglect definition includes both children “whose physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of his parent or other person legally responsible for his care to exercise a minimum degree of care,” or “who have been without proper supervision or guardianship. Family Court Act § 1012(f)). New York also has a policy against ever leaving a child in a car alone. Policy materials state that “a child of 12 might be fine alone for two hours in an afternoon. Yet, the same child may be incapable of responsibly caring for a 5-year-old for that same period of time.” (OCFS FAQ re: Supervision)
Criminal Law: It is a misdemeanor to leave a child 8 years old or younger “locked or otherwise confined” in a house or dwelling or “enclosure” so as to expose the child to danger of fire. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-318. Since any child left alone would likely be locking the door, this provision can be read as broad and punitive.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: North Carolina has two categories of neglect: (1) lack of care, under which a child is considered neglected if they lack proper care, supervision, or discipline, have been abandoned or not provided necessary medical care; or who is not provided necessary remedial care; or who lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile’s welfare; or (2) conduct, behavior, or inaction of the juvenile’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker that evidences a disregard of consequences of such magnitude that the conduct, behavior, or inaction constitutes an unequivocal danger to the juvenile’s health, welfare, or safety, but does not constitute abuse. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-101(19a).
Criminal Law: North Dakota makes it a felony to fail to exercise proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health, or morals, including “associating with vagrants or vicious or immoral persons” or failing to exercise reasonable diligence in “preventing the child from engaging in, an occupation forbidden by the laws of this state or an occupation injurious to the child’s health or morals or the health or morals of others.” N.D. Cent. Code § 14-09-22.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: A neglected child is without proper care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health, or morals, and is not due primarily to the lack of financial means of a person responsible for the child’s welfare. N.D. Century Code § 50-25.1-02. This law has no specific provision as to lack of supervision or children being alone. North Dakota has a policy brochure, however, that is quite liberal in recognizing that children can be unsupervised from ages 9 and up. While it states that a child 0-4 should never be left in a car alone, it also says that 9-year-olds should not be unsupervised for more than two hours, should not supervise other children, and should not be left alone at night while 10-to-11-year-olds can be left alone for longer periods of time but should not supervise other children or be left alone at night. 12 years and older may babysit. Children under 15 should not be left alone at night. Caution should be taken leaving 15-to-17-year-olds alone at night. DHS Guideline. A very different definition of neglect than the one in the statute appears in another child welfare publication, however: Child Neglect is a continued failure to provide a child with needed care and protection, involving issues with inadequate supervision, abandonment, environment, nutrition, clothing/hygiene, medical neglect, educational neglect, failure to protect, prenatal exposure to alcohol or controlled substances, and/or environmental exposure to controlled substances. This pamphlet is from an agency called “Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota”.
Criminal Law: It is a violation of the criminal code to create a substantial risk to the health or safety of the child, by violating a duty of care, protection, or support. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2929.22. Lack of supervision is not specifically enumerated as a criminal offense but could be included in “substantial risk” in violation of a duty of care.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Ohio has a broad general neglect statute that includes lack of necessary care and refusal to provide treatment, but does not specifically enumerate lack of supervision. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2151.03
Criminal Law: Oklahoma does not have a criminal statute against children being unattended, except that 47 Ok. Stat. § 47-11-1119 (2019) prohibits children under 6 from being left in vehicles in extreme weather when inadequate ventilation, or hazardous or malfunctioning components within the vehicle present a risk to the health or safety of the unattended child or vulnerable adult unless they are with someone 12 or over who is not mentally incompetent.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Oklahoma became the second state to pass a “reasonable childhood independence law” as an explicit exception to its neglect law. It provides (a) policy against intervening against families for reasons of material, educational disadvantage, (b) narrows neglect findings to cases in which a parent willfully disregards danger to a child, (c) provides a specific definition of the category of neglect involving lack of supervision as the failure to provide supervision or adequate caregivers to protect the child from harm or threatened harm of which any reasonable and prudent person responsible for the child’s health, safety or welfare would be aware, and (d) enumerates independent activities as including Such independent activities include but are not limited to:
(1) traveling to and from school including by walking, running or bicycling,
(2) traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities,
(3) engaging in outdoor play,
(4) remaining at home unattended for a reasonable amount of time,
(5) remaining in a vehicle if the temperature inside the vehicle is not or will not become dangerously hot or cold, except under the conditions described in Section 11-1119 of Title 47 of the Oklahoma Statutes, or
(6) engaging in similar activities alone or with other children.
(Amending Oklahoma Children’s Code 10A O.S. 2011, Section 1-1-105, through HB2565, signed into law on May 3, 2021, effective, see also REFERENCE (Oklahoma policy guidance for parents).
Criminal Law: Oregon Revised Statutes 163.545 makes it a crime to allow a child under 10 to be unattended for such time as will endanger them.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Oregon Revised Statutes, Volume 10 §34 Chapters 419A-C, which is Oregon’s juvenile court act, does not have a neglect definition, but its administrative code does include failure to provide adequate supervision. CPS Rule 12.
Criminal Law: 18 PA C.S. is the criminal code, which provides an open-ended definition of criminal engagement, defined as any act as to child under 18 that violates a duty of care and support. This could be applied very broadly though it doesn’t specifically target children who are left alone or exercising reasonable independence.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: 42 Pa.C.S. Chapter 63 is the applicable code but it does not contain a definition of neglect. At the same time, Pennsylvania’s lack of care abuse definitions are used in practice to reach neglect. Pennsylvania’s reasonable and prudent parent law might be used to protect decisions to give children reasonable independence. An act of “serious physical neglect” which is considered abuse must be repeated, prolonged or egregious.
Criminal Law: Rhode Island General Laws § 11-9-5 makes it a crime to fail to give children “proper care or oversight.” R.I. Gen. L. § 31-22-22.1 is the motor vehicle law that provides law enforcement officers are authorized to provide a verbal warning to any person who shall be deemed to have left a child under the age of seven unattended in a motor vehicle, informing the offending person of the dangers of this practice including, but not limited to, the risk of kidnapping and/or abduction, and the dangers which may result from excessive temperatures within the motor vehicle. While this warning may exaggerate these dangers, the statute implies that parents are not criminally charged for leaving their children in cars but merely warned. However, there was a bill introduced in 2020 to repeal the warning section.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect is defined as failing to “provide the child with a minimum degree of care or proper supervision” as a result of social problems, mental incompetency, or the use of a drug, drugs, or alcohol” causing the parent or other person responsible for the child to “lose his or her ability or is unwilling to properly care for the child.” 40 R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 40-11-2. While this statute does not specifically reach children left alone, the state’s child welfare policies are broad and widely used.
Criminal Law: 16 S.C.C.L. is South Carolina’s criminal code. It is silent as to child endangerment due to neglect except under its driving-under-the-influence”(DUI) law at 56 S.C.C.L. 5-2947.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: 63 S.C.C.L 3, the Juvenile/Family Court law, has broad language that treats neglect as the lack of proper care and a child is neglected if their parent engages in a “behavior” or “occupation” or is in an environment that injures or endangers others. However, S. 79, a bill modeled on Utah’s “Free Range/independent activities” law, passed the South Carolina Senate; it would protect against the use of this law in cases of children left alone unsupervised in when they are reasonably believed to be mature enough.
Criminal Law: South Dakota has no specialized criminal code for crimes against children. It would be difficult to prosecute someone under South Dakota law for letting a child be alone, given the lack of a statute making that action a crime.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: S.D. Codified Laws § 26-8A-2 make lack of supervision a neglect ground. South Dakota’s neglect law is broad and includes lack of care and injurious environment language.
Criminal Law: It is child endangerment in Tennessee to knowingly expose a child under age 8 to abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury to the child or to knowingly fail to protect a child from such danger. TCA § 39-15-401. TCA 55-10-803(a) is a specific criminal code related to leaving children in a vehicle; it prohibits a person who is responsible for a child younger than seven years of age from knowingly leaving that child in a motor vehicle located on public property or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park, or any apartment house complex, or any other premise that is generally frequented by the public at large, without being supervised in the motor vehicle by a person who is at least thirteen (13) years of age, if:
(1) The conditions present a risk to the child’s health or safety;
(2) The engine of the motor vehicle is running; or
(3) The keys to the motor vehicle are located anywhere inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle.”
While this law is not the most punitive of the “anti-kid-in-car” laws we have reviewed, the fact that it specifically criminalizes leaving any child under 7 and doesn’t limit the “risk” to risk of serious physical harm makes this a punitive law.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: TCA 39-15-401 and TCA 37.1.102 provides a broad definition of neglect that includes lack of supervision, but does state that the support the child is denied should be ones “necessary for the child’s well-being based on the age and developmental stages of a child.” A Tennessee courts pamphlet states: “[o]bviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time. In most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time.” Tennessee Family Courts FAQ.
Criminal Law: Texas Penal Code, Title 5 Chapter 22, provides very broadly that it is a crime to fail to remove a child (under age 14) from a situation in which they may suffer bodily injury. This is a very broad criminal statute. The “may suffer” standard of likelihood is lax as it does not require a likelihood of harm.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: In May, 2021, Texas became the third state to adopt specific legal protections for reasonable childhood independent activities from the reach of child neglect laws. Amendments adopted through H.B.567, effective September 1, 2021, tightened Texas neglect law to require an act or failure to act by a person responsible for a child’s care, custody, or welfare evidencing the person’s blatant disregard for the consequences of the act or failure to act that results in harm to the child or that creates an immediate danger to the child’s physical health or safety. The law now provides that the state cannot clear and convincing” case for neglect based on the parent allowing the child to engage in independent activities that are appropriate and typical for the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, developmental abilities, or culture. In addition, it explicitly states, in Section 262.116(a) of the Family Code that a child may not be removed from their parent because the parent “allowed the child to engage in independent activities that are appropriate and typical for the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, developmental abilities, or culture.”
Criminal Law: Endangerment is defined as recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or serious bodily harm to a child. Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-112
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Utah’s Juvenile Court Law, Utah Code Ann 78-6, neglect statute includes “non-supervision” but Utah has specifically created enumerated protection for independent activities for children–the first state in the country to do so. Utah lists specified children’s independent activities as permissible and “not neglect,” including traveling to and from school by walking, running, or bicycling; traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities; engaging in outdoor play; remaining in a vehicle unattended, except under conditions otherwise prohibited; or engaging in a similar independent activity.
Criminal Law: Vermont’s criminal code makes it punishable cruelty to a child by failure to provide protection from the weather, or unnecessarily and cruelly neglecting to properly care for such person. 13 V.S.A. § 1305. This is a very limited statute that would make it difficult to prosecute a parent for letting a child play outside as long as it wasn’t unduly hot or cold and the child was dressed appropriately.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: An “abused or neglected child” is broadly defined as a child whose physical health, psychological growth and development, or welfare is harmed or is at substantial risk of harm by the acts or omissions of his or her parent or other person responsible for the child’s welfare. 33 V.S.A. § 4912
Criminal Law: Virginia makes the willful failure to provide a child with necessary care a felony. § 18.2-371.1 (Crimes Involving Morals and Decency). This is a vague law that could authorize some prosecutions for allowing a child to be alone.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: The child welfare law defines physical neglect as including lack of supervision. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-371.1; Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-100. The definition requires that the child has been left in the care of an inadequate caretaker or in a situation requiring judgment or actions greater than the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, and/or mental abilities would reasonably dictate. Inadequate supervision includes minimal care or supervision by the caretaker resulting in placing the child in jeopardy (in a variety of specified ways including sexual abuse or drug abuse).
Criminal Law: Washington State’s criminal code is quite limited in its authorization of prosecutions insofar as it requires a showing of imminent and substantial risk of substantial bodily harm to a child or dependent person by withholding any of the basic necessities of life. This statute does not target children being left alone without adult supervision, but it also does not clearly prevent such prosecutions. RCW 9A.08.010, Washington motor vehicle law provides that it is unlawful for any person, while operating or in charge of a vehicle, to park or willfully allow such vehicle to stand upon a public highway or in a public place with its motor running, leaving a minor child or children under the age of sixteen years unattended in the vehicle. RCW 16. This “kid in car” law seems limited to truly dangerous and unlawful leaving of children in cars.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: RCW 26.44.020 defines “negligent treatment” as an act or omission that evidences a serious disregard of consequences of such magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to the child’s health, welfare, and safety. While this is a better (narrower) neglect law than many states have, it does not specifically afford protections for independent activities.
Criminal Law: D.C. Code Ann. § 22-1101 is DC’s criminal code, which contains several cruelty to children provisions but does not contain a general “child endangerment” provision that would apply to independent activities of children.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: D.C. Code Ann. § 16-23 includes lack of “care or control” under its juvenile code/neglect definition. This is a broad, vague definition of neglect.
Criminal Law: West Virginia Code Ann. § § 61-8D-4 specifies that acts or omissions that amount to gross negligence and create a serious risk of death or serious injury are criminal offenses. This is a high injury level/risk threshold for criminal conduct. While this is a tighter statute than many, it would authorize some prosecutions of children left unsupervised where the authorities viewed that decision as “grossly negligent.”
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: West Virginia’s Child Welfare Act defines a neglected child as one whose “physical or mental health is harmed or threatened by a present refusal, failure or inability of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, supervision, etc. or who is without supervision (and other necessary care) because of the disappearance or absence of the parent or custodian. W.Vir. Code Ann. § 49-1 and W. Vir. Code Ann. § 49-201 .
Criminal Law: In Wisconsin it is criminal neglect for a person who is responsible for a child’s welfare who, through his or her action or failure to take action, for reasons other than poverty, negligently fails to provide any of the following, so as to seriously endanger the physical, mental, or emotional health of the child, is guilty of neglect and may be penalized. Wisc. Stat. § 948.21 “The following” include:
(a) Necessary care.
(b) Necessary food.
(c) Necessary clothing.
(d) Necessary medical care.
(e) Necessary shelter.
While supervision is not explicitly listed, we assume supervision could fall under “necessary care” as this law is intermated.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect is defined as failure to provide food, shelter and other necessary care; supervision is not specifically enumerated in the Children’s Code at Wisc. Stat. § 48.02. The Wisconsin child welfare policy manual makes clear that care includes “supervision,” stating as follows: the unmodified term “care” in the definition can be assumed to include, at a minimum, a level of supervision consistent with the child’s needs as well as protection from dangers that a caregiver can reasonably be expected to foresee and prevent. DCF Policy Standards at https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/cwportal/policy/pdf/access-ia-standards.pdf (p. 83).
Criminal Law: Endangering a child’s life or health, by violating a duty of care of support, is a crime under Wyo. Stat. Code § 6-4-403.
Juvenile Court | Child Protective Services | Neglect Law: Neglect means a failure or refusal by those responsible for the child’s welfare to provide adequate care, maintenance, supervision, education or medical, surgical or any other care necessary for the child’s well-being. Wyo. Stat. Code § 14-3-202. Wyoming does have a broad “reasonable and prudent parent” statute that protects children’s right to engage in “developmentally appropriate activities, defined as those that generally accepted as suitable for children of the same chronological age or level of maturity or that are determined to be developmentally appropriate for a child based on the development of cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioral capacities that are typical for an age or age group. In the case of a specific child, “suitable for that child” is based on the developmental stages attained by the child with respect to the cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioral capacities of the child. Wyo. Stat. Code § 14-13-101.