Laws regarding children and their safety vary from state to state. In Florida, there is no law that specifically addresses the issue of unattended children outside. However, there are provisions in the Florida statutes related to overall child welfare, as well as vehicle laws that suggest that leaving children unattended outside is not preferred by state lawmakers and child service agencies.
Unattended Children Outside the Home
Kids love to play outside, especially in warm, sunny Florida. Often, it is not possible for parents or guardians to be outside with their children all the time. Since there is no specific law regarding kids being outside alone, it is legally acceptable for kids to play outside, walk around the neighborhood or go to the park by themselves. However, if children are outside unattended too frequently or not by their own choice, it could be considered a case of child neglect. Florida Statute 39, which addresses child abuse and neglect, defines child neglect as depriving or allowing a child to be deprived of necessary food, medical treatment, clothing or shelter. If a parent locks a child out of the house overnight or in unfavorable conditions such as rain or extreme heat, he could be accused of neglect.
Unattended Children in Vehicles
Florida is one of only 19 states that has laws regarding unattended children in vehicles. The Florida Statues states that parents or guardians cannot leave children under 6 unattended for any period of time if the vehicle is running, if the child's health is in danger or if the child appears to be in distress. If the vehicle is not running and the child is not in any danger, he can be left unattended for no longer than 15 minutes. People found in violation of this law can be charged with a second degree misdemeanor if the child is not harmed and may face third-degree felony charges if the incident results in great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement.
Children who are outside unattended are sometimes home alone. Though Florida does not have a minimum age that children can be left home alone, lawmakers and child advocates expect parents to use good judgement and explore all potential situations when considering leaving kids home alone. When children are left unsupervised or under the care of older siblings, they are at an increased risk for accidental injury and possible behavioral or academic problems.
The minimum age suggested by the National SAFE KIDS campaign for children to be left home alone is 12. However, children definitely mature at different rates. Parents should take into consideration the level of responsibility and maturity a child has shown when deciding to leave them unattended inside, outside or in a vehicle. Parents should also assess factors such as their child's ability to follow rules and guidelines at home and school, demonstration of good judgement and problem solving skills and knowledge of safety and basic safety procedures before allowing them to be outside unattended.