New Feature! List of State Child Neglect Laws

Look! Up on the tab iykthntrda
! There’s a new resource for all of us parents, and here’s what it says:

Wondering if you can let your kids walk to the park or wait in the car for a few minutes —  legally?

This list should help.

At Free-Range Kids, we believe parents are the best judges of  what their kids are ready for, when. But the sad fact is, some loving and responsible parents have found themselves in legal trouble when a busybody or law enforcement official perceived their actions as unacceptable.

Until the day we see the Free-Range Kids and Parents Bill of Rights become the law of the land — a bill stating kids have the right to spend some time unsupervised, and parents have the right to let them — here’s a guide to state child welfare laws.

You’ll see that 19 states have specific laws about when it is legal to leave a child in a car. Five states have laws that specify what age a child can be home alone, and 10 states have “guidelines.” For states that don’t have these, the child neglect laws are the next most relevant sources of information. You can find them here.

This list is not a legal document and some localities have rules and guidelines even when the state does not. But we hope this at least provides a starting point. It was compiled by my incredible assistant, Paul Best, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. If you have any questions or inquiries or local laws to add, please contact him at

28 Responses to New Feature! List of State Child Neglect Laws

  1. Edward March 6, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    Great idea for this site!
    Now we need the relevent REPEAL AND REPLACE info for each state to replace “worst first thinking” with common sense. Pretty sure each state will be different.
    ps I’m no lawyer, either.

  2. Edward March 6, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

    Going out on a limb now….
    At the DHS link provided in the Georgia listing I found this page also:

    I would like to ask DONNA and PUZZLED from a previous FRK post – would these be the folks I would begin talking with about revamping child protection laws in the state of Georgia?

    My thinking is sometimes change can come from within. I also understand this is a long tedious process but someone has to start somewhere.

    Again, you readers and commenters from other states, you must begin this too.
    Edward Hafner

  3. caiti March 6, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, looking for this information before. I ended up having to schedule an appt with my attorney to find out whether I could leave my son in the car. At $350 an hour, I cannot afford to consult him on every parenting decision!

  4. caiti March 6, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    Wait a minute, I was looking at the list and noticed Tennessee’s included, “It is an offense for a person responsible for a child younger than seven (7) years of age to knowingly leave that child in a motor vehicle …” But didn’t we discover that the only times a child has died from being left in the car have been when the child was forgotten? So why a law that would specifically exclude the only cases that have ever happened?

    Tennessee also states “Obviously, 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.” The first weird, “obviously,” really bothers me. It’s certainly not obvious to me!

  5. caiti March 6, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

    Oops, I meant word, not weird

  6. BL March 6, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

    “Tennessee also states ‘Obviously, 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.'”

    Whoever wrote that shouldn’t be without adult supervision. And a straitjacket.

  7. tz March 6, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

    Car law: No child under the age of sixteen can be
    left left
    in running car alone. The full law is below

  8. lsl March 6, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    I’m glad to see that a number of the car laws have an early-elementary age for leaving in the car alone, and an early-teens age for being the supervision for younger kids. I still think that many of the cut-offs are a couple years too high, but recognizing that kids need several years worth of opportunities for being in charge of themselves for short periods of time before they are expected to be responsible for someone younger is an improvement.

  9. Gina March 7, 2015 at 12:03 am #

    There is a bill currently pending in the New Mexico legislature that would make it a misdemeanor to leave children under the age of 10 in the car for more than 5 minutes, unless attended by a person age 14 years or older. I spoke to the representative who introduced the bill (after seeing his photo op on the TV news), and he seemed to know very little about it. His idea for the bill came from a group in California. He was supposed to look into it and get back to me. . . I’m still waiting.

    I’ve written to my state representatives and spoken to a friend who is a lobbyist and thinks the bill will die in committee.

    I’m not sure what else I can do. The legislative process is so cumbersome, the number of bills introduced is amazing, and apparently some of these proposals are made without a lot of knowledge or thought.

  10. ARM March 7, 2015 at 10:25 am #

    Thanks for doing this – but yikes! My state’s “guidline” says 12 is the earliest for kids to be unsupervised, period. There seems to be no distinction made between home alone, walking to school, in the car. The most ridiculous part is that they give as an explanation that this is based on the state’s child labor law which stipulates 12 as the youngest to babysit. So one day a kid isn’t even old enough to take any responsibility for himself or be home alone for five minutes, and the next he’s suddenly capable of being responsible for younger kids in place of an adult. How does that even make sense to a bureaucrat?

  11. Donna March 7, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    Edward – Those would be the people at DFCS to talk to. However, the juvenile code in Georgia was just completely rewritten. The current code has only been in effect for a year. While there will be some tweaking to work out the kinks, it is definitely not going to completely revamped again anytime soon. This rewrite had been many years in the making.

    If you really want to work on legislative issues, some people to talk to may be the Barton Law Clinic at Emory Law School. They focus on children’s rights and not parents, but they are big movers and shakers in the child protection arena.

  12. Edward March 7, 2015 at 11:24 am #


    Thank you.


  13. Kenny Felder March 7, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

    What a wonderful resource! The only trick is, someone has to maintain it, or it will quickly go out of date, and incorrect information can be worse than no information at all.

  14. Edward March 7, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

    Donna and Lenore,
    I think these Barton Center folks are exactly who we need to be talking with.

    The statements quoted below were found in this 9 page document from the Barton Center in Atlanta Georgia:

    “On behalf of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law (Barton Center), I write to submit the following comments on the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) in response to the request for public comment issued by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) on April 5, 2011.”

    “Additional Measures: Due Process Protections:
    To the end of respecting the due process rights implicated by child welfare practice, the Barton Center encourages ACF to consider the addition of new due process protection measures to the CFSR outcome framework. The constitutionally-protected liberty interests of the child and the parents to family integrity are directly and dramatically impacted by the child protection decision to remove a child from parental custody into foster care. As soon as that intervention is undertaken, the substantive and procedural due process rights of the parents and the child hang in the balance. Federal and state constitutional, statutory, and decisional law speak to that balance and consequently, the federal child welfare regulatory scheme should be leveraged to monitor state performance. For example, due process could be measured in part by the percentage of permanency hearings in which the parent(s) and the child were each represented by their own attorney. Additional process measures should include the timeliness of conducting the various statutorily prescribed hearings, such as the percentage of cases in which a permanency hearing was held within 12 months. Incorporating these judicial process measures accomplishes the dual goals of ensuring due process protections for the parties and more formally engaging the courts as participatory stakeholders in the child welfare system and the CFSR process.”

    Readers and commentors – did you know such a documented statement from a child advocacy group existed before just reading it now? Do you see how important it is to ask questions, get answers and follow up?

    Is it possible any other state has an organization similar to ? It’s up to the rest of you to find out and begin properly using it to achieve the goals we lament here – Allow Parents the right to legally and safely make decisions concerning their own children.

    It will take me some time to read through the mass of information at the Barton Center site but I will eventually formulate questions and seek responses and/or recommendations for other contacts to answer them.

    I am convinced the changes in societies attitudes about this issue will not occur in my lifetime (I’m 57 by the way) but they will never change if we do not start.

    Again, Donna, thank you very much for responding to my comment.
    Edward Hafner

  15. Papilio March 7, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    What Kenny said.

    Aargh – all those laws/guidelines that first say ‘it’s up to parents to decide yada yada’ and then immediately after that, ‘no child under the age of [married and bolding] can be left home alone’!!
    I agree many (most?) ages are too high – there basically is no room for parents to decide when their kid is ready to stay home/in the car alone for a short while, and I assume these ages also have some influence on what age kids can go places by themselves?

    There are surprisingly many states with no specific laws on these two subjects, but… Does that mean parents won’t get bothered over reasonable decisions or does that mean every idiot who happens to be a(n A)DA or CPS worker can turn your life into hell over letting your 11yo twin daughters eat breakfast and then walk to school by themselves?

    And what is ‘a significant danger/risk’? Can they just make something up (kidnappers, pedophiles, etc)?

  16. Danielle March 8, 2015 at 12:41 am #

    Lenore, any chance on a link to the Canadian laws by province?

  17. sexhysteria March 8, 2015 at 1:14 am #

    Good new feature. Sometimes parents aren’t the best judge either. Some kids are more competent than their parents.

  18. SanityAnyone? March 8, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    A couple of comments. First, we want to be careful not to provoke the opposite reaction. I. E. That the guidelines will be turned into laws.

    Second, I would like to see our Free Range Bill of Rights rewritten to be very pointed and professional. No offense to the author because the intent is admirable , but at the moment it is kind of a mixed bag wish list written in Mommy blog style. It needs a major revision before it could be presented as anything to rally behind that could affect law or police/CPS response.

    Thank you!

  19. Steve March 8, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

    Lenore’s book “Free Range Kids” could be THE document used to study and draft legislation.

    The problem we have now is that a lot of people — including school administrators, police, legislators, and CPS — all base their thinking on false data or no data. Emotions and irrational fears reign supreme.

  20. Lance Mitaro March 8, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    I think it’s actually sad and disturbing that this information “needs” to be posted. Sad to see that Stranger Danger hysteria still has influence even in 2015. Thanks for the madness, John Walsh.

  21. Nicole March 8, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    Illinois’s law is wrong. The actual text is vague, but you can legally leave children home alone, as long as it’s developmentally appropriate.

  22. Nicole March 8, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    Here’s the text for Illinois ” (d) 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”

    Unreasonable period of time is going to vary, but it’s far from a law prohibiting minors from being home alone- in fact, if you read it like that (that any level of unsupervision is negligent) then my entire block should be in jail.

  23. Roger the Shrubber March 9, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    Pennsylvania residents: the letter of the law is no defense.

  24. Jim Collins March 9, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    You might want to add the laws requiring background checks for people volunteering to work with children. Pennsylvania goes over to the dark side July 1st this year.

    It is going to kill our youth hunting and fishing projects at the sportsmen’s club I belong to.

  25. pentamom March 9, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    I’m in one of those “no minimum age” states, and I hate it. It means that the question of “too young” becomes much more subjective if someone decides that a given child is “endangered” by being alone. If you have a minimum age, at least you have a pretty powerful defense if your kid is at or above that age.

    Thankfully, my baby is going to be 14 this week so this whole thing is pretty much behind me personally.

  26. pentamom March 9, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Argh, Jim, I didn’t know about that.

  27. Edward March 9, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    Regarding Penn. background check law going into effect July 1 2015:
    Read the pdf and did not see THIS question – Can cost of background checks be subtracted from liability insurance premium? – wonder why?
    Also; if your volunteer program shuts down July 1st, be sure everyone knows this is the reason and provide a detailed explanation.

  28. librarian March 11, 2015 at 11:46 am #

    Dear Lenore (and the hive mind):
    Now we need more detailed and up-to-date statistics for the “stereotypical abductions” in the US. I am having a “stranger danger” disagreements with my mother-in-law, and all we seem to have is “115 kids” countrywide from 1999. I am surprised that, given all the fear and hype, we don’t have any 21st century data, state-by-state breakdown, number of fatal outcomes, etc. Is there any explanation for this lack of data?