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Bipartisan push to change law on what age kids can be left home alone

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Bipartisan push to change law on what age kids can be left home alone

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A bipartisan push is underway to get a measure to the governor to change a child neglect law that could land parents in hot water for leaving someone younger than 14 home alone.

If an Illinois parent is found to have left a 14-year-old child home alone, they could face a child neglect investigation. State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said Illinois has the highest minimum age in the nation and that needs to change.

“Most states set it at 12 or 10, some don’t have any age at all, some go all the way down to 8,” Sosnowski said.

Sosnowski’s bill, House Bill 2334, made it out of committee last week to allow 12-year-olds to be home alone, or do other independent activities without parental supervision, including traveling to and from school; traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational activities; engaging in outdoor play; remaining in a vehicle unattended; remaining at home unattended; or engaging in a similar independent activity.

The measure also says 14-year-old baby sitters can watch children older than 12, rather than 13.

State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, signed on to the bill. She said it was important for parents in her district.

“There’s worry that ‘oh, am I going to be arrested, am I going to be investigated by [Department of Children and Family Services],’ and then once that investigation starts it’s incredibly difficult if you’re unfamiliar with the process to navigate that,” Stava-Murray said. “So there’s a lot of fear around this topic for normal parenting behaviors.”

Sosnowski and Stava-Murray said the measure was an overreaction to a situation from a few decades ago.

“Some of that came from a case 30 years ago where a family went on vacation and left two kids,” Sosnowski said. “Today even if this law were to be changed, if there’s a neglectful situation there’s a variety of other things that prosecutors can do to charge a family in that situation.”

“[Current law] was so reactionary to such an extreme circumstance and that’s actually not a best practice for creating a law,” Stava-Murray said. “You’re supposed to look at what are the average situation and so this corrects that overreaction that happened a couple of decades ago.”

“We don’t want to have a gray area where a parent could be charged with neglect,” Sosnowski said.