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Home alone


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POSTED: Saturday, March 20, 2010

QUESTION: A co-worker is planning a business trip to the mainland and asked me what the minimum age law in Hawaii is to leave a child at home alone. He stated that in Maryland, children have to be at least 12 years old before they can be legally left at home unattended. Is there such a law in Hawaii?

ANSWER: There is no law in Hawaii about leaving a child home alone, whether for just a few hours after school or while a parent goes away on a trip, said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, which oversees the Child Protective Services Division.

It comes down to how mature your child is, what the situation is and what kind of supervision is available in the parents' absence.

"But there is no specific law that says, 'You can't leave a child home (alone) under this age' in any of our state laws or federal laws, for that matter," she said. "It's just a matter of the child being responsible and mature."

Asked about a parent leaving the island as opposed to not being at home because of work, "Hopefully, the parent will make the right decision on something like that," she said. "But we would advise they don't leave a small child home alone, even if they are responsible, for that amount of time."

While there is no law dealing specifically with this situation, if a child is left alone for an extended time without proper care, schooling, etc., then the situation could fall under "neglect" and authorities can step in.

"But if the child is responsible enough, there is no law that says they can't do what (your co-worker is) suggesting they're going to do," Schwartz said. "We're just advising that they take care of their children — make sure that the child is responsible or properly taken care of."

As for the Maryland law, we found a Web site — http://www.latchkey-kids.com/latchkey-kids-age-limits.htm — that lists the laws in all the states regarding leaving children unattended.

Maryland Family Law specifies age 8, not 12, as the minimum a child can be left alone "locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure or motor vehicle" unless there is someone at least 13 years old around to protect the child.

According to Latchkey-Kids.com's survey of the states (presented with the caveat that local ordinances within each state might have more definitive and restrictive laws), only 14 specify an age that children can be left home alone. The ages range from 8 to 14, with the rest of the states having no minimum age requirements (or their requirements were not known).

The general consensus seems to be children under the age of 12 should not be left home alone, but that even at that age, some children still might not be mature enough to handle the situation.

Safe Kids USA, whose mission is "to prevent unintentional injuries to children," says that while children, developmentally, generally are ready to be left home alone around 12 or 13, it really depends on each child.

"So use your own discretion, within the boundaries of the law, to determine your child's maturity level and capabilities," the organization advises.

Parents can find more information and tips about keeping children safe at the Web site http://www.safekids.org. Locally, parents can contact the Keiki Injury Prevention Coalition/Safe Kids Hawaii at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 537-9200.

The state Attorney General's Missing Child Center Web site has a copy of a brochure put out by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children giving advice on the after-school safety of children left unsupervised. See hsblinks.com/259.

QUESTION: What ever happened to the case of the man who was found dead at the archery range in Kapiolani Park about two years ago?

ANSWER: The Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office concluded the victim, Shigemitsu Inohana, committed suicide by stabbing himself in the neck.

Police initially classified the case as an "unattended death with suspicious circumstances."

Passers-by had discovered Inohana's bruised and bloodied body near the park's archery range, off Paki Avenue, on June 20, 2008.

Inohana, 57, had moved to Maui from Japan to retire and take care of his health.

But the former president of Japan Amusement Broadcasting Corp., who Kyodo News said was once on Japan's list of "high-income taxpayers," started a business to help house visiting students and another to promote sumo wrestling.

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Write to "Kokua Line" at Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).