Illinois’ rules for children being left unsupervised – either alone or to babysit others – are surprisingly nonspecific and even conflicting. The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) doesn't have much in the way of precise laws and those included in the state’s legislative code are brief. Some guidelines do exist, however, and if you stay within them, you shouldn’t run afoul of the law.
Illinois Labor Laws
A minor younger than 14 can’t work in Illinois, at least not for a business or in most capacities. Younger teenagers are legally permitted to take on some jobs, however, and babysitting is one of them. Under Illinois labor law, a 13-year-old is permitted to watch other children. But this statute only makes it legal for the teenager to do such work. It doesn’t necessarily follow that DCFS won’t find you guilty of neglect for leaving your children with a child younger than 14.
Although it contradicts Illinois’ labor law for minimum age requirements, the state’s code says it’s not permissible to leave your child alone without adult supervision until she turns 14. If you do, you may be guilty of child neglect, but typically only if the child is alone for an “unreasonable period of time.” The child neglect statutes don’t set a definitive number of hours for what constitutes unreasonable. You cannot leave younger children with a babysitter who hasn’t yet turned 14. Doing so is child endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor – you’d risk up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The child abandonment statute includes a more specific timeframe. If you leave your children with a sitter who hasn’t yet turned 14 for a period of 24 hours or more, this is abandonment and it’s a Class 4 felony. You could receive up to three years in prison.
Outside of Illinois’ labor and criminal laws, there’s no definitive age according to DCFS’s standards when a child is old enough to babysit or stay home alone. DCFS only looks to make sure the child is sufficiently mature and healthy enough to handle any unexpected circumstance or emergency that might arise, and it sets guidelines as to factors to look for that would confirm this.
Factors DCFS Considers
DCFS offers a booklet, available online, called “Preparing Children to Stay Alone.” It outlines 15 different factors a parent should consider when deciding whether it’s safe for a child to be left alone. If you elect to leave your child without a babysitter, DCFS suggests that, first and foremost, he should be comfortable with it. You should establish clear cut rules and rehearse what he should do in certain situations, such as if he’s locked out or a stranger rings the doorbell. The child should have emergency contact numbers for available adults, preferably nearby, in the event of a problem. The same guidelines apply to anyone you’re considering hiring to babysit.
- Illinois Legal Aid: Can I Leave My Children Alone at Home After School?
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Children at Home Alone
- FindLaw: When Can You Leave a Child Home Alone?
- University of Illinois Extension: Frequently Asked Questions -- Legal Age for Babysitting
- Illinois Employment Laws for Children