The hub of information for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, our blog contains posts with announcements, news and events, articles, periodicals and additions or updates to our website.

This page contains published posts from the August 2011 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

Take 5: to Learn About When Old Enough Is Old Enough

Question

Does the State of Florida specify an age at which it is legal to leave a child home alone? For example, when you go to the grocery store, a part time job or the child gets home before you do. What about going to places like public parks or to the mall alone?

Answer

The state of Florida does not have a law or policy that establishes a specific age at which a child may be left alone without adult supervision or be responsible for the care of another child (babysitting, for example). This decision must be based on each child's individual characteristics, such as level of maturity, knowledge and capabilities. This decision also depends on other variables, such as the geographic location of the home; proximity to an adult who could help in case of an emergency or other immediate need; or the availability of communication. Additional examples to consider are the distance to the nearest adult neighbor, availability of transportation and access to a telephone in the event of a crisis.

Such variables and considerations, as a part of a parent's or caregiver's overall decision making, apply to circumstances in which children are allowed to participate in activities or to visit certain locations without adult supervision. Examples are allowing children to visit public parks, pools, malls, movie theatres, etcetera, without a specific, responsible adult accompanying them. Such places add an additional element of possible harm to children due to the potential for predators or accidents.

While there is no stated age limitation in the state of Florida for allowing a child to be left without adult or other competent supervision, in general, parental responsibility in evaluating whether his or her child is of sufficient age, competence, maturity, etcetera, should consider the following factors, noting that this list not exhaustive nor all-encompassing.

  • Child's competence: age, maturity, behavior, habits, special needs and reaction to the supervision plan.
  • Immediate environment: home conditions, neighborhood, time of day, duration and frequency of time without supervision.
  • Presence and accessibility of a capable adult or person to assist with special problems; accessibility of the parent or other parent; and a plan to handle emergencies.
  • Responsibility and expectations; care for other children; cooking and using appliances.
  • Resources available to the parent to improve the supervision plan, if needed.

In essence, a parent or caregiver should consider whether the quality of the supervision plan places the child or children at risk of imminent and serious harm after evaluating his or her child's age, developmental needs, competence, maturity, environment, accessibility to a capable person to assist, etcetera.

There are many articles, publications and resources that might help you decide if your child, regardless of age, is mature enough to safely be left at home alone and to help you prepare your child for this step. Two related online resources for your review follow.

Please remember that if at any time you believe any child is being abused and/or neglected—without adequate supervision, for example—you should immediately call the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 962-2873.

The Florida Abuse Hotline also provides the following guidance on their website regarding age factors and children left alone or without appropriate supervision.

How old does a child have to be to be left home alone?

Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes mandates that the Hotline be contacted when any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child of any age is being left home alone without adult supervision or arrangements appropriate for the child's age or mental or physical condition, so that the child is unable to care for the child's own needs or another's basic needs or is unable to exercise good judgment in responding to any kind of physical or emotional crisis.

The Hotline Counselor will assess the information provided in the call and make a determination of report acceptance or non-acceptance based on statutory criteria.

For more information on this or other topics, please contact our friends at Florida's Center for the Advancement of Child Welfare Practice.

Take 5: to Learn About Educational Plans

Today's topic is education plans available for all school-age children. Learn more about this important tool, review them for your children (GAL or otherwise) and be sure that schools are following their plans.

Question

What is an educational plan and who needs one?

Answer

An educational and career path plan is necessary for each child in foster care age thirteen and older. Developed with the youth, their foster parent, the case manager and the school, each plan should outline the youth's post-secondary goals and the path to achieving those goals. Thereafter, plans should be reviewed at each Judicial Review hearing.

The 2006 Legislature passed House Bill 7087 (A++) which included changes to the middle grades promotion requirements. One requirement states that students entering the sixth grade in 2006 must enroll in a semester-long course in career and education planning to be completed in the seventh or eighth grade.

As part of the course, students will develop a career and education plan using Florida CHOICES Planner or another career information system such as ePersonal Education Planner (ePEP). Schools must use one of the approved courses to meet this requirement. Some of the approved courses are designated as year-long. In those cases, the classroom teacher can determine which semester to implement the career and education content.

The Educator's Toolkit on Career and Education Planning was developed to assist teachers in planning a comprehensive middle school career course. It provides easy access to classroom activities, lesson plans and related web-based resources. Each module includes a module description, lesson plans with student handouts, recommended websites for additional information and a glossary for the unit.

  1. § 409.1451(3)(b)(1), Florida Statutes (2011).
  2. Florida Department of Education
  3. Florida's Center for the Practice of Child Welfare Practice

Take 5: to Learn About Home Studies

Question

We rely on home studies all the time, but do we know what is actually required to be in a home study? What is included in the home study?

Answer

At a minimum, a home study must include:

  1. An interview with the proposed legal custodians to assess their ongoing commitment and ability to care for the child.
  2. Records checks through the Florida Abuse Hotline Information System (FAHIS), and local and statewide criminal and juvenile records checks through the Department of Law Enforcement, on all household members 12 years of age or older and any other persons made known to the department who are frequent visitors in the home.
    1. Out-of-state criminal records checks must be initiated for any individual designated above who has resided in a state other than Florida provided that state's laws allow the release of these records. The out-of-state criminal records must be filed with the court within 5 days after receipt by the department or its agent.
  3. An assessment of the physical environment of the home.
  4. A determination of the financial security of the proposed legal custodians.
  5. A determination of suitable child care arrangements if the proposed legal custodians are employed outside of the home.
  6. Documentation of counseling and information provided to the proposed legal custodians regarding the dependency process and possible outcomes.
  7. Documentation that information regarding support services available in the community has been provided to the proposed legal custodians.

Additionally, a determination shall be made and documented regarding:

  1. the child's feelings on the placement if the child is of sufficient maturity, understanding, and experience to reliably express such feelings concerning placement in this home;
  2. whether each proposed caregiver understands and is able to meet the child's need for protection;
  3. whether each proposed caregiver understands the child's need for care and permanency and can provide long-term permanency if needed;
  4. whether each proposed caregiver has been informed regarding rights and responsibilities in the dependency process;
  5. whether each proposed caregiver will provide adequate and nurturing care and can ensure an adequate and safe home;
  6. whether each proposed caregiver has a history free of child abuse and free of a criminal record; and
  7. whether or not the placement is to be recommended and an explanation of the decision.
  1. § 39.521(2)(r)(1-7), Florida Statutes (2011).
  2. Rule 65C-28.012(2)(a)(b), Florida Administrative Code (2006).