Questions

How young a child can be left home alone?

Is it illegal in Massachusetts to leave a child alone in a car?


How young a child can be left home alone?

Massachusetts does not set a specific age at which a child can be left home alone. In Massachusetts, such issues are decided on a case-by-case basis.

For information on abandonment and neglect, see MGL c.119 s. 39 : Abandonment of a child under 10, and 110 CMR 2.00 pdf format of 110 CMR 2
which defines neglect as follows:

"110 CMR 2.00
Whenever used throughout 110 CMR, the following words shall have the following meanings, unless the context plainly requires otherwise....

Neglect means 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.)"

Other states have provided some helpful information for parents on the topic, however. See, for example, Florida's When to Leave Your Kids Alone .

See also, the Department of Children and Families web page on Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect . To report suspected child abuse, call 1-800-KIDS-508, or after hours, 1-800-792-5200.

Is it against the law in Massachusetts to leave a child alone in a car?

The only specific restriction we have been able to find in Massachusetts relates to day care providers. 606 CMR 7.10(5)(i) pdf format of 606 CMR 7
says: "As provided at 606 CMR 7.13(3)(j), a child must never be left unattended in a vehicle." The section referenced does not exist. The relevant regulation is 606 CMR 7.13(4)(j) pdf format of 606 CMR 7
, which reads: "the driver of the vehicle takes attendance before and after each trip and conducts a complete vehicle inspection after every trip to ensure that children are not left alone in a vehicle at any time."

In Commonwealth v. Nebel , 59 Mass. App. Ct. 316, 321 (2003), the court explained that briefly leaving a child alone in a car was not child abandonment under MGL c.119, s.39 :

"If this activity [leaving child alone in car], albeit ill-advised, were meant to be criminalized, the Legislature could have written a more extensive child endangerment statute. Compare 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/12-21.6 (b) (West 2002) ("There is a rebuttable presumption that a person committed the offense [endangering the life or health of a child] if he or she left a child 6 years of age or younger unattended in a motor vehicle for more than 10 minutes"). That the actions of the defendant were foolish and a lapse of judgment, as DSS observed, is self-evident. To equate abandonment with poor judgment, however, is a leap we are not prepared to take. The defendant left his daughter for an undetermined amount of time, traveling a relatively short distance away. There was no indication that he did not have the intention to return shortly; indeed the evidence was to the contrary. This cannot form the basis for a criminal conviction of abandonment."

Despite the lack of a specific prohibition, authorities still have the discretion to criminally charge caregivers under existing child endangerment laws.


Last update: June 15, 2014

Questions, comments or corrections on this website? Contact the law libraries' webperson. Questions about legal information? Contact our Reference Librarians.

See all topics