Mom arrested for leaving kids alone while grabbing takeout — really?!

Aug 22, 2016 at 11:35 a.m. ET
Image: Moment/Getty

If you ask a group of parents at what age their kids will be allowed to stay home alone without a sitter, they'd probably give you a wide range of answers. Some of us see our kids as more independent than others, and some of us have an easier time allowing our children to take on added responsibilities.

In most cases, it makes sense to just follow the guidelines set by the laws in your state, but what if those laws leave you wading in murky water? A Maryland mom was recently arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for leaving her two children home alone, despite the fact that she wasn't technically breaking any laws at all.

More: Don't ever buy a kid this toy without asking mom first

Susan Terrillion was staying in a vacation rental in Delaware with her 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter when she left them alone to pick up some food less than five miles away. The mom was gone for approximately 45 minutes, and during that time, the family dogs unfortunately made a break for it. A witness reportedly stopped to help the kids wrangle the escaped dogs after one of the pets ran out into the street. When he learned the kids were home alone, he called police.

To most parents, it seems perfectly reasonable to trust an 8- or 9-year-old to be able to stay home alone for a short period of time, but Terrillion ended up being arrested and charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of her children. To make the situation even more ridiculous, there's not actually a law on the books in Delaware that forbids parents from leaving their kids home alone.

More: I didn't want to admit my son had all the signs of autism

According to Free-Range Kids, police in Delaware will investigate reports of kids under 12 left home alone, but it's up to the investigating officers to determine the level of risk to the child. Maryland (Terrillion's home state) also doesn't have a specific law in place prohibiting an 8- or 9-year-old from being home alone. And in other states, like North Carolina, Kansas or Georgia, kids may stay home alone if they're over the age of 7. How's a parent to know what to do?

Most parents make decisions based on their instincts. At 8 or 9, a child knows how to do basic things for themselves, like make a sandwich, use the bathroom or use the phone to call Mom or 911 if shit goes down. Barring unusual circumstances, it seems logical that a child that age could stay home while their parent ran to a restaurant or made a quick stop at the grocery store, and this mom had no real way of knowing that the choice she made would land her behind bars.

More: School comes up with the most absurd plan to prevent student pregnancies

If kids of a certain age can't be home alone, then we as a nation need to get on the same page about it. How young is too young? And, why isn't there a national age limit? The way it stands, someone from North Dakota, where kids are allowed to stay home alone at age 8, could visit Oregon with their kids and get arrested for leaving them alone, because Oregon's age requirement is 10. It's ridiculous, and it's something that most parents likely wouldn't think to investigate.

The vast majority of parents and police officers have kids' best interests at heart, so we need to be able to work together on this to create clear rules that every mom and dad can follow. Certainly there are instances in which people are neglectful, but working to prevent child neglect shouldn't mean good parents end up in jail on a technicality.