Home Alone is an all-time classic Christmas movie, and it centers around 8-year-old Kevin McAllister and the hi-jinks he gets into when he’s accidentally left at home when the rest of his family goes on vacation. Although Kevin’s parents left him at home on accident, because the film is set in Illinois, Kevin’s parents could have been found guilty of neglect under state law.
In fact, Illinois has some of the strictest neglect laws in the nation, and if you’re a parent, odds are you’ve unknowingly committed neglect if you’ve left your 13-year-old at home alone while you ran out to the grocery store. Here’s how the statute reads:
“[Neglect occurs when] 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.”
Strictest in Nation
The state’s neglect law ranks as the strictest in the nation. More than 30 states don’t list a minimum ago for leaving children home alone, and only Illinois requires that a child must be at least 14 before they can be left unattended. Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi are the next strictest states, and child only need to be 12-years-old to be left home alone.
Now, just because your 13-year-old is left home alone for a short period of time doesn’t mean you are always guilty of neglect. Chicago public schools have some of the shortest school days in the nation, and it’s clear not every parent is going to be home at all times when their children get home. That’s why the clauses “unreasonable period” and “without regard” were added to the definition. In fact, the state lists 15 factors that can help a court determine if a child was truly neglected. Here’s a look at the 15 points.
1. The age of the minor;
2. The number of minors left at the location;
3. Special needs of the minor, including whether the minor is a person with a physical or mental disability, or otherwise in need of ongoing prescribed medical treatment such as periodic doses of insulin or other medications;
4. The duration of time in which the minor was left without supervision;
5. The condition and location of the place where the minor was left without supervision;
6. The time of day or night when the minor was left without supervision;
7. The weather conditions, including whether the minor was left in a location with adequate protection from the natural elements such as adequate heat or light;
8. The location of the parent or guardian at the time the minor was left without supervision, the physical distance the minor was from the parent or guardian at the time the minor was without supervision;
9. Whether the minor’s movement was restricted, or the minor was otherwise locked within a room or other structure;
10. Whether the minor was given a phone number of a person or location to call in the event of an emergency and whether the minor was capable of making an emergency call;
11. Whether there was food and other provision left for the minor;
12. Whether any of the conduct is attributable to economic hardship or illness and the parent, guardian or other person having physical custody or control of the child made a good faith effort to provide for the health and safety of the minor;
13. The age and physical and mental capabilities of the person or persons who provided supervision for the minor;
14. Whether the minor was left under the supervision of another person;
15. Any other factor that would endanger the health and safety of that particular minor.
Recently some legislators have discussed changing the law for a number of reasons. First, many argue that most 13-year-olds are perfectly capable of staying home alone. Also, some argue that the law unjustly targets single-parent, lower-income households, where paying for after school child care simply isn’t an option.
Being charged with neglect is a real possibility in Illinois, and you shouldn’t attempt to challenge the charge on your own. If you or someone you know has been charged with neglect in Illinois, contact us for a free consultation.