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Danger Lurking Next Door

Dear Carolyn,

I have been reading the horrid stories about children being left in hot cars.  I also have been troubled by my next door neighbor leaving her seven-year-old son alone this summer while she goes to work.  I have seen this mother lock the door when she leaves in the morning with the child apparently inside.  I do think the seven-year-old has a cell phone.  I don’t like this situation for the seven-year-old who just finished first grade. Is there anything I can do?

Danger Lurking Next Door

Dear Danger,

Ohhhhhh! It is a crime for someone to leave a child under eight years of age unattended.  Further, a child under age eight cannot be left locked up, as this is also a crime.  Children under eight years of age must be left with a supervisor of suitable age and discretion.   The parent can and will be prosecuted.  The placement in the law of this statute is interesting as it is presented as a “fire protection” for little children.  However, I do believe that leaving an unattended child under eight in a car would be a crime under this statute as well. (North Carolina General Statutes 14-318.)

The statute does not define further the age of discretion necessary to be a supervisor (babysitter) but what a parent has to do is assess the child’s ability and maturity to deal with an emergency.  Fort Bragg has military guidelines that are obviously not law but provide some good information.  At Fort Bragg, a child cannot be left alone until the child has completed fourth grade.  In fifth and sixth grade, a child may be left for up to two hours alone; in grades seven and eight up to four hours alone; ninth and tenth up to six hours alone; and after age sixteen, overnight alone.

Another issue that arises in this area is when can a child babysit another child?  North Carolina does not have a law on this, other than we know that a child under eight cannot be left alone. But, this certainly does not imply, in my opinion, that an eight-year-old should be the caretaker of a younger sibling.

We all are reminded of the Randolph County deaths where the Mother locked the outside door of her three-year-old and five-year-old sons’ bedroom and a fire broke out killing the two sons. Mother escaped the fire but has been charged with manslaughter of her two sons.  How very tragic.

So what should you do about the seven-year-old next door?  First, you should call Social Services immediately and report this neglect of this seven-year-old.  Informants to Social Services are kept confidential.  Second, call the police and tell them the situation and ask them to do a “wellness” check.

Thank you for your concern for this child.