Bill would let Illinois parents decide when kids are old enough to be home alone

Bill would let Illinois parents decide when kids are old enough to be home alone

Illinois is the only state to outlaw leaving children home alone until they are 14. Lawmakers are considering throwing out the minimum age altogether, joining 39 other states that leave it up to parents.

Parents in Illinois may soon be the ones to decide when it’s safe to leave their children home alone.

An amendment to House Bill 4305, introduced by state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, eliminates the minimum age of 14 years old for children to be left unsupervised in Illinois. If it passes, Illinois would join 39 states that already believe parents are the best judges of their children’s maturity and ability to stay home by themselves.

State law defines neglect as “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’s no definition of “an unreasonable period of time,” which opens the door to poor interpretations by government employees.

Wilmette mother Corey Widen has seen the law in action. In 2018, she let her 8-year-old daughter, Dorothy, walk the family dog around the block. A neighbor called the police upon seeing her walking alone, but officers saw nothing negligent about it.

That didn’t stop the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services from seeing grounds for an investigation. They eventually dropped the case, but only after weeks of scrutinizing Widen for simply trying to teach her daughter responsibility.

Scherer’s amended bill makes sense, letting parents judge whether they have a responsible 10-year-old or an irresponsible 15-year-old. Respecting parents’ roles is what those 39 other states do, and so should Illinois.

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