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Can I be charged for leaving my child unattended?

The question of when to leave a child alone troubles many parents around the world. Whether it means leaving them in the car for a few minutes to quickly pick up some groceries, or home alone for the night, there are many risks and dangers to consider.

What’s even more troubling is that in certain situations for parents in Canada, they can even face criminal charges for leaving their child unattended.

In Canada, about four to six children die each year from being left in cars during extreme hot or cold temperatures. Canada’s Criminal Code states that anyone who leaves a child under the age of 10 in a severely dangerous or life-threatening circumstance can face up to five years in jail.

However, unless the child suffers severe injuries, authorities tend to call child services organizations instead of pressing criminal charges. Most provinces have additional rules and guidelines for leaving children alone. Make sure to read up on following rules in your province before making this decision:

Ontario:

Parents in Ontario who leave children unattended may be subject to the province’s Child and Family Services Act. The act, for children 18 and under, specifies what will prompt an investigation from the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). It applies when a child suffers physical harm from a parent’s “failure to adequately care for, provide for, supervise or protect the child,” or a “pattern of neglect in caring for, providing for, supervising or protecting the child.” If the CAS finds enough evidence, they can take a child away from the parents.

Alberta:

Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act specifies that a child is in need of intervention from a youth worker if the parents endanger their child’s security, survival or development. This occurs if the child is abandoned or lost, the child is neglected, or the parents are unwilling to protect the child from physical harm. Like in Ontario, if child services find enough evidence, they can take the child.

While there is no law in Alberta that states what age a child can be left alone, the age of 12 is mentioned as a guideline on the province’s website.

Most of the charges resulting from these incidents are non-criminal ones.

Quebec:

In Quebec, it’s forbidden to leave children under 12 at home alone. The Government of Québec has set up a network of childcare resources, including early childcare centres and day cares.

The province’s Youth Protection Act defines neglect as “failing to provide the child with the appropriate supervision or support.” This means if a child is left alone and is physically harmed, the parents could be investigated by Quebec’s child services.

Read more:

Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act Alberta 

Youth Protection Act Quebec