My son's BFF is being left home alone for an extended period

We recently learned my son's best friend (just turned 9) is being left at home alone for extended periods of time. I've noticed him in the schoolyard after school for many hours alone and he hides. He does not attend after-school care because his mom "cannot" pay for it. I do not know much about his mother; I know she is a single and hard-working mom, who has a demanding job and teaches two night classes at the university. I know he misses his dad, who recently left his family. I say the latter because he does seem to be sad these days but I think it's more about his dad moving back to China. I don't suspect any abuse. I know that his mother is planning on taking a cruise in the near future and prepping him to stay alone for seven days. This child does very well in school and seems to be mature for his age. He also indicated he's not allowed to use the stove/oven, only microwaves and is receiving money in case he needs food. He lives in a very safe, affluent gated community, where can walk to a store. Am I to report this? Or is this just a MYOB situation? I know my mom told me stories of how she used to travel for three miles each way to and from school on a bus in the 1960s in SF and stay at home for three days at a time alone (with siblings). Is it a cultural thing? I'm not sure what to do or if I just stay clear of this one. 

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She would leave him alone 7 days? At home by himself? And to go on a cruise? Even if it was for a more legitimate motive I would find it inacceptable, but for a cruise.... If you are sure about what you say, I would start by talking to the school (teacher, principal) to see if the situation can be handled before it goes wild (social services etc). But I would surly not let the kid be left alone for 7 days. Inacceptable. You are right to step in.

It's nice of you to be concerned, but perhaps if you don't suspect abuse and he seems to be doing okay in school, how about just offering to check in on the son while she's on a cruise, or invite him for dinner or a sleep over  with your own son so he's not lonely---rather than report it (?). I remember also being left alone as a child with siblings (one year older and another 6 years younger). Especially if they live in an affluent neighborhood, indeed it seems a bit sad, but not neglect. 

I know this might be too much to ask but are you in a position to offer any support? Can he stay at your house for that week? Can he go home with any classmates after school to be picked up later by parent? I know it’s a sensitive subject. When I was growing up  (granted in the suburbs) there were plenty of days and nights where one of the neighbors sets of kids or myself and my siblings were passed off to the other neighbors after school or evenings because one set of parents or the other was busy or away or on vacation. We had a real village set up in our neighborhood that made it easy for parents to have a community of other parents to ask for help from. It’s so much harder now a days and especially in an urban setting to ask for help from other parents. Is there a comfortable way you or one of the other families the child is close to could offer some sort of help? It really does take a village.

A 9-year old child left alone for 7 days is reportable to CPS - it is clearly negligent.  Could you perhaps offer to host him while his mother is gone?

I don't even know where to start. Prepping him to stay home alone for 7 days while she goes on a cruise? But she has no money for after school care despite being a university professor and living in a gated community? Short answer, yes, get involved. If you have credible specific information I would talk to his teacher first.Teachers are mandated reporters and if they have information that a child is in danger they are required to report it to CPS. 9 is way too young to be left alone for extended periods. If she leaves him alone for 7 days something bad is going to happen. I'm sure she tells him to hide on the school grounds until she picks him up so she doesn't have to pay or make other arrangements. She has no regard for his safety. I don't know what her problem is but someone needs to step in and help this family.

Wait what?!?! Mom can afford a cruise (that she’s planning to leave her kid alone for) and an exclusive gated community, but not aftercare!? I am all about kids having more responsibility (and MYOB), and I could see leaving a mature 9 year old at home alone for brief periods (esp if you know the neighbors who could help if needed), but I would say the authorities should be notified about a child home alone for 7 days.

Why not invite him to stay with you for the week? It would be terrible for you to report this to the authorities when it's in your power to fix it. And why not inquire about scholarships for the after-school program? I don't think that it's appropriate for a nine year old to be left alone for more than a couple of hours but I also don't think that it's appropriate to sic the government on anyone unless there are no other options. People who are quick to call CPS usually either have no experience with CPS (and have no idea how bad and dangerous foster homes can be) or they have a lot of experience with CPS and are manipulating the system to their own ends. Unless a child is in real danger I'd never call CPS but I've worked them in many different capacities over the years and am very perturbed by what I've seen. This should be your last resort.

If i were in your shoes, I’d tell the school principal (or school social worker if you have one). They will know the child, the culture, and ideally will know how to outreach to the mom & tell her the laws & get the child into appropriate aftercare. School staff are also mandated reporters, so if the situation rises to the level of child neglect, they will have to tell cps. 

Great of you to be concerned, I would be too!  Maybe offer help and see if the kid wants to come over a few days after school and that might open some conversation with his mom about the situation.  But at the very least, I'd bring it up to his teachers because a kid home alone for that long can be a dangerous situation.

Wow, are you going to get a lot of replies. It is not OK for this boy to be alone for this much time in the afternoons, and it is definitely not OK for this kid to be home alone for seven days while his mother travels. For any reason. I would approach the school about this first. They should know, for one. They are mandated reporters, for another. They may have an after-school program and can see about financial aid if that is needed, and they might have other resources for the boy to deal with his grief. I'd reach out to the principal for a private chat and I would mention what you heard about the vacation. The principal can report it and it won't put your son in the position of being the one who told. The principal can also walk you through your options. Cultural or not, this is not how things are done here and it's definitely considered neglect here and needs to be addressed.

This needs to be reported.  While there is no set age in the state of California regarding leaving kids home alone, leaving a 9 year old at home for that length of time seems completely unreasonable.  There also seems to be a disconnect between the parent not being able to afford after school care but going on cruises and living in a gated community.

I think most 9-year-olds can wait in the schoolyard for awhile, be at home alone for a stretch in the afternoon, walk to school on their own, and things like that.   Seven days is another matter entirely, and I don’t think it’s okay.   Even if he could be physically safe, he would be terribly lonely.   Could you offer to have him stay at your house?   The absence is too long, but if there’s a way to intervene and address the problem without calling CPS, that might be better for him.   If his community steps in to help, an official intervention, which could also be traumatic, might not be needed.  I stayed alone too much when I was little.  The problem was less about safety than how sad and lonely and scared I felt.  Spending so much time feeling like that affected my development, my personality.  Children shouldn’t be in this position even if they won’t starve or set the house on fire.  

As a German, I would think, this is quite a normal situation for a 9-year-old to stay by himself. Back home kid's get keys to their homes once they start school at the age of 6 or 7 and are allowed to walk home alone. When kids are about 7 years old they can stay at home for 2-3 hours without any problems, as long as the parents are somehow to reach. And depending on how responsible the kids act. Telling you this does not mean that your troubles aren't important. I am just trying to give you a different frame to compare to. Best!!! And maybe you can ask your son if he wants to bring his BFF home more often? The issue with his Dad is, of course, something else. He might need someone to talk about it. 

California’s law is unclear regarding the starting age of when children can be left at one alone. It sounds like a terrible idea for a 9 year old to be left over night even if it’s just one night-worse if it’s longer. Maybe the child will be okay because of the familiarity of his home and regular routines; however, if anything out of the ordinary happens, he might not know how to react. What if he chokes while eating or if there’s a house fire while he’s sleeping? There are too many risks.

Since your child and the boy are best friends, it might be helpful if you  reach out to the mother and express your concerns. If you’re able to, maybe you can offer his friend to stay with you for a few days while she’s away. Even if she declines the offer, she will possibly be more aware that other people know about her situation and hopefully be less inclined to leave for that long. 

Well, if I thought a parent was planning to leave a 9-year-old alone for a week, I would report them to CPS.  That seems like child neglect and child endangerment.

As far as the after-school situation, I'm guessing the kid will be found out soon, it's hard to "hide" for too long.  However, I would also probably mention that to the school administrators.

I don't know--maybe I am a busybody.  Maybe I am not sympathetic enough to a hard-working single mom with money problems.  But both of the situations you describe seem like neglect, and would make the life of a child who has just lost their father even worse.

I was that kid! Except I had a brother, which was nice because I wasn't alone. It was before there were national stories about kids discovered left alone made news. We also lived in an area where culturally it was important to respect other families' privacy. We knew not to tell anyone at school when we were left alone. It was ok, although I would never leave my kids alone. My husband and I have been foster parents for years. I wouldn't report them to Child Protective Services. It would definitely be taken very seriously (because, to be clear it's not developmentally appropriate or reasonable). Assuming he were permitted to stay in the home, it would add a lot of stress to the family. There would be lots of social workers visiting, likely mandatory parenting classes, and the possibility of the boy being removed. If he were removed, the placement is unlikely to be awesome. It's much less likely that he'll be removed coming from a middle-class family, but it'll be very disruptive and likely traumatic. 

In a couple of years, it will be ok for him to be alone. In the meantime, can you take him in more often? Would the mom be ok with you taking him home when you pick up your son after school? Can he stay with you while his mom is out of town? Maybe you can characterize it as his staying over for the occasional night during her absence. I hope you'll let him stay as much as he wants. I know, you didn't sign up for this, but here we are. There aren't any good answers and your son will learn some valuable lessons watching you provide support to this little guy. 

The people who gave my brother and me support and a glimpse at a more supportive home life were invaluable to me. I was talking to girl I grew up with whose mom was the kind of person I'm encouraging you to be. She's amazing and looks back with such profound respect for her mom and the way she reached out to kids who needed more than they were getting. 

Oh dear, sounds like a situation where you might have to MYOB since the boy seems otherwise fine alone. As a child (I'm Chinese) I was taught to be pretty self-sufficient at an early age so I was also left alone often while my parents worked. Just my opinion though.

My two cents is that 9 is way too young to be left home alone for such extensive, perpetually extensive, time!  I'll just say it:  the mom, as overworked/stressed/financially strapped as she may be, is being negligent if continuing to leave her son alone, unsupervised, for extended periods of time.  If afterschool programs cost too much, I suggest she stretch her social resources, get to know some trusted parents (you) of her son's friends, see if she can work out afterschool care with them, or  figure out a low cost source of aftercare, share the cost with other moms?  If she can afford to go on a cruise but not aftercare for her son, something is wrong. *Seriously.*  The mom needs support, to support her son. Her son is the most important person.  Not knowing any details about the mom's situation, I realize it's easy for me to make these suggestions, but I think the mom needs someone to reach out and help her to brainstorm solutions and look deeper into resources.  Her son is too young to be so alone. If she is refusing to make some changes, I would make a phone call to someone - social serices, local police - someone to pay attention to this situation.

Child protective services are for protecting children from abuse and neglect. You are assuming leaving a 9 year old home alone is a form of neglect. There is no law in California requiring a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. The state trusts parents to use their best judgment. You should give the benefit of the doubt that his mother is a competent parent. If you are concerned, you may talk discreetly with her to see if you can extend some help, should she want it. Maybe you can gently offer to have the child staying over your house while she is out of town because it would be a pleasure for you and your child? It takes a village to raise a child and she may not have that village. That doesn't make her a neglectful parent, but it often makes a child a responsible child.

California has no laws about minimum age to be left alone ( Maybe offer to have him stay with you during that week? But otherwise I would stay out of it.

Oh my goodness, she is planning on leaving the nine year old home alone for a week while she goes on a cruise?! That sounds like negligence to me and very dangerous. I understand not wanting to report her but   I don’t think you can allow that to occur. If you don’t want to involve CPS could you at least let her know that you are aware of her plans and that it’s “unfortunately” illegal in this country to leave a minor alone for that long and offer to host him for the week?  If she’s from another country it is very possible it’s a cultural difference and she doesn’t realize. I also know that sometime CPS can cause more harm then help. But under no circumstances would I let that 9 year old be home alone for a week with no one checking in on him:(

This is neglect and should be reported to CPS. You can also talk to a teacher or counselor at school (who are mandated reporters and are required by law to report neglect and abuse) and they could report, but it is better if CPS gets the info from you. Leaving a child at home alone for days on end to go on a cruise is neglect. It is not just a "different approach to parenting", it is objectively neglectful. Report it.

His mother is prepping him to stay at home alone for seven days while she goes on a cruise? That is patent neglect and you have an ethical obligation to report it. Please contact your school’s principal - he/she is a mandated reporter and will know what to do. Neglect is not a cultural practice, it is abuse. 

The hanging out in the school yard after school is less egregious - depending on how safe the school yard is, that alone might not rise to the level of neglect for a nine year old (although it seems obvious it is emotionally damaging for this child). But leaving him alone for a week is outrageous. Please, please report this. 

That is very troubling and I think would qualify as neglect - especially going on a cruise and leaving the child alone for multiple days. Is there a family resource person at your school?  I would go to that person and let them know. 

Hello.  I am a psychotherapist and parent.  I appreciate your thoughtfulness and consideration of culture and his mother being single.  You are clearly concerned, as well as looking for the positive in this family.  It sounds like there is a lot of both!  I feel strongly that this is very serious child neglect.  Prepping to be left alone for 7 days while his mother is on a cruise is child abandonment.  It sounds like she is putting her own desires before her child's basic needs and this requires intervention unfortunately.  As sad as it seems, I would recommend calling your local Child Protective Services and reporting all of the details you've given.  You can do it anonymously if you prefer.  They won't argue with you if you decide to.  Feel free to write for further support.  I feel very concerned about this child!  Good job reaching out!   

I will add that, while there are no minimum ages by law for a child to be left home alone while a parent works, for example, going on a cruise is another story.  

GenXer here. Since 2nd grade I came home to an empty house. Practiced piano. Watched Star Trek. Played with neighborhood kids. 

When my folks had to leave town for a funeral we had neighbors check in on us- or maybe we stayed with them. 

Why not invite this BBF for the week- is that possible? Then have them over for dinner/lunch to get to know mom.

Btw, calling CPS with incomplete information- uh, that’s cultural. Learn more first.  

Reporting means potentially foster care and that would not be an improvement over what you describe. It is also possible that the mom doesn't trust the after school program for some reason or that he hates it - my kids were very happy to catch AC transit home alone rather than go to after school care but that was in 7th grade).  Is is possible for you to extend some support to this kid? invite him over after school? strengthen the connection between him and your son? Weekend time?

This is your son's BFF. I'd try other approaches before reporting it.  I would definitely reach out to the mom and see if she'd be open to you having him stay with you (if you're able to accommodate) while she's gone. People in some cultures may prefer to have their kids be on their own vs. stay with a non-family member, and maybe this mom doesn't have any family around? I know, still doesn't sound right to have a kid be all alone for several days. If she doesn't want him to stay with you, then maybe you could offer to take him home each day that week and make sure he is safe and fed? 

I definitely think it is odd that she'd be leaving him alone while she goes on a cruise (!). I'd be more understanding if it were an overnight business trip or something,but I still would find it alarming. 

As for the daily hanging around the schoolyard, if she's ok with him being left for 7 days, why can't someone take him home so he can wait for her until she gets back? There are services that drive kids from place to place, which would be less costly than after-care. 

Again, this is your son's BFF, so I'd be more inclined to try and be helpful to the mom. She may not realize that this would be cause for alarm and that someone would report her.

I would suggest that you offer to take care of this kid after school. If he gets along with you son, they will have fun together, and the kid will have someone watching over him. 

I have the impression from your post that  you may be wondering if this is a cultural issue. Many immigrant Chinese parents give a lot of responsibility and independence to their children out of necessity. But the level of isolation you describe is quite unusual.  Usually it's a case of several siblings looking after each other for a few hours, with a nearby adult family member available by phone in case of emergency.  But every Chinese family I know arranges for after-school tutoring, lessons, or extracurricular activity, even the impoverished ones.  None would leave a child alone for 7 days. I can't think of any that would think this is proper parenting. It's not active abuse, but it is neglect. However, I don't know if it meets the criteria for the legal definition of neglect. And you'd want to try every other option before you make a report.

So there's probably something else going on. Is the mother emotionally damaged? proud? unresourceful? paranoid? won't accept help? Hard to say without knowing more. I think you are right to be concerned, and correct in wondering how best to improve the situation. From what you describe, his emotional health may be at much more risk than his physical safety. He's spending hours alone and hiding.  All that time without any stimulation, and that's time he could be spending learning, playing with other kids, or browsing in a library.  If he's grieving the absence of his father, all the more reason for him to have something to do. His mother could at the least hire someone or get a friend to drop him at the local library.

One place to start--talk in person with a school counselor and see what they can tell you about the child, the family, resources they can offer, what's already been tried, how open the mom might be to you as parent of his best friend. Confidentiality is an issue, but facial expressions and body language may tell you those things that can't be said.

From there you can decide on the best approach. One option is to offer to give the child a ride, or to invite the child over to your house once or twice a week after school to start.  Later, you could offer to have him stay at your house during the cruise. (Obviously that is a big offer and quite an imposition on you.)  You should only do this if it feels right to you. 

I felt fine reading your post... until I got to the part about the cruise. Leaving a 9yo alone after school seems ok to me (the whole evening is unfortunate, but still within acceptable bounds to me). The cruise, however, is way past acceptable bounds in my mind. I would say something to the mom like “we would love to have X stay with us while you’re on the cruise. The two boys would have a blast.” But I would also follow that up with something like “I hope you’ll take me up on this, because otherwise I will feel very conflicted about how to make sure he is safe.”  If she resolutely declines your offer, I would check in on the boy daily anyway and also inform the principal. 

Hi - this does raise concerns but before reporting a parent to CPS and sending him/them into that system, why not talk to the mom and find out what is going on. Maybe the kid’s perspective is just one piece of the picture. At the very least, and because you care, talk to the mom before taking any action based on incomplete info. Imagine how you would feel if someone saw you do/say something they didn’t approve of and decided to call CPS. 

I am shocked at the number of respondents who suggested staying out of it. It is not OK. The friend is a child; neglectful parents leave children at home by themselves for a week, although maybe it is the natural progression of not putting a 9 year old in an afterschool program and getting away with that. However, it is not your job to determine if this obvious neglect rises to the level of abuse. That is the job of social services (CPS) - google the number for your county and call today. You can ALSO discuss it with the teacher and the principal. You can ALSO invite the child to stay at your house for a week. But there will be a next time, and a next time, and who knows how the child is really doing with all this. It is CPS' role to ascertain the real situation. Just call.

One possibility to consider is that there may a misunderstanding about the boy being left home alone for 7 days. Unless you've heard this from mom, I wouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly.

A report should be made to the police or CPS if you suspect child abuse. From what you said, it doesn't sound like there has been abuse.  You said he does well in school, and I am guessing he attends school regularly and isn't showing up hungry or dirty. So, there isn't cause to suspect abuse right now. It's awful that the mom might leave the boy alone for a week, but her thinking about it isn't abuse either. However, if she does end up leaving him alone for days, then that should be reported to CPS. (Are you sure there won't be a relative or family friend who will stay with the boy at night while mom is gone?) For now, I would suggest that you talk to the school principal. The principal has likely dealt with many different family situations through the years.  Maybe he/she could reach out to the boy's mom to tell her about resources available in the community, as well as make it clear that it's not okay to leave a child alone for a week. At the least, the principal should be made aware that a student is hanging out on the yard for hours after school without adult supervision. 

It’s so kind of you to notice and care about your son’s friend.  And your intuition seems really on point - that there may be a cultural difference and the boy is mature.  Before calling on outside agencies that sometimes create more problems than help, I would reach out to the mother to share what you’ve observed, that you care and want to help, and ask for a more thorough picture. 

I grew up with a single mother who worked multiple jobs and side first grade, I was responsible for coming home from school by myself and doing my homework alone until my mom came home in the evenings. At age 7, I was fully capable of making myself a snack or dinner sandwich and studying to stay at the top of my class. I always felt loved and cared for by my mom, whose quality time with me was more important than the quantity. She was fully present in the evenings and weekends, when she talked to me about my classes, my friends, what I learned from them, what I wanted to do differently because there was a better way, etc.

My mom (and I) would have been devastated if someone called CPS on her because she was leaving me at home for long periods. And I would have been traumatized by being separated from my mom if CPS took me away temporarily.  My mom would have lost time at work, lost the little bit of money she earned to make ends meet, and lost the important moments of  quality time with me that we always had. If someone was concerned about me, I think we would have very much appreciated that person making an effort to reach out and talk with my mom directly rather than calling authorities on us. 

If she teaches 2 courses at university, she's probably not a professor but an adjunct and likely makes less than 40,000$ a year. Her living and financial situation might be in flux with her husband leaving. My point is, you don't know any of this for sure and seem to get all your information from her child. If you really care, I would suggest getting to know the mum of your son's BFF and maybe learn about her situation first hand rather than making it worse. Ask her how she is doing. Please don't report a struggling single mum without even talking to her. Also, depending on the child, it is in my opinion okay to leave a 9-year-old alone for a few hours.