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Parents urged to use their best judgement when leaving kids alone

Kids encouraged to register for babysitting course
Brandon holding certificate
Brandon Bergeron holds the manual and the certificate he received as part of the babysitting course he took through the Red Cross in Timmins in 2016. Jessica Trudel for TimminsToday

At some point in their child’s life, parents ask the question, “When is it okay to leave my child alone?”

There’s no simple answer.

“There is no law that dictates a specific age at which a child can be left unsupervised,” says Kate Cantin, Corporate Communications Coordinator for the Timmins Police Service. “Due to the variables and differences in each child, police would not set out a guideline or recommended age.”

The Child and Family Service Act simply states that “no person having charge of a child less than 16 years of age shall leave the child without making provision for his or her supervision and care that is reasonable in the circumstances.”

In order to help guide parents on what constitutes “reasonable” provisions, North Eastern Ontario Family and Children’s Services (NEOFACS) provided a statement to TimminsToday that sets out some guidelines. The statement stresses, however, that “every child and situation is different, and should be assessed individually.”

  • Children nine years old and under “should not be left unsupervised at any time of the day or night.”
  • For children 10 to 12 years old, “short periods of indirect supervision of one to two hours may be acceptable…indirect supervision may be provided (for example) by a competent caregiver in the next house or apartment if the caregiver is aware of the parents’ absence, and agrees to look in on the child during specified periods of time.”
  • For 13- and 14-year-olds, “longer periods of indirect supervision (two to five hours) are acceptable,” but “a competent caregiver should be available by telephone to the children in case of an emergency, or if the child requires assistance.”
  • Children older than 14, NEOFACS says, are usually able to be left home alone for a whole day.
  • “Each situation is different and must be assessed individually to ensure the safety of your children,” says the statement.

Similarly, there’s no law stating when a child is allowed to babysit, but NEOFACS encourages parents to consider the age, behaviour and number of children to be babysat, and the age and maturity of the babysitter when making decisions about leaving their children in the care of another person.

There are programs available within the community to help children learn skills that will aid them in babysitting or being home alone, such as the babysitters course. The Timmins Family YMCA typically offers this course throughout the year on PD days and other school breaks.

These courses teach practical skills such as diaper changing, babysitter kit building, and basic first aid, as well as soft skills like dealing with behavioural issues and interview skills for obtaining babysitting jobs.

Courtney Berlinghoff, Early Years coordinator at the Timmins Family YMCA, says the course also “helps with building confidence and maturity.”

“Even if the children do not go and babysit right away, they are prepared with a lot of knowledge and skills needed to even just stay home alone,” Berlinghoff says.

Brandon Bergeron took the babysitters course through the Red Cross in 2016.

“It was pretty fun,” says Bergeron. “It’s not just babysitting. You learn how to treat yourself better and take care yourself.”

Bergeron also believes it has helped him get babysitting jobs. “You can show proof that you’ve passed your test and you’re qualified. Its pretty important to parents that you know what you’re doing.”

Parents interested in signing up their kids for the Babysitting course are encouraged to contact the Timmins Family YMCA at 705-360-4381.