Families running out of childcare options

B.C. Supreme Court ruling means leaving a child under the age of 10 at home alone is unacceptable, regardless of the length of time.

With so much of the focus on the election over the past 78 days, you would be forgiven if you didn’t hear about a recent provincial court ruling involving a mother and her eight-year-old son.

Last month, B.C. Supreme Court ruled that leaving a child under the age of 10 at home alone is unacceptable, regardless of the length of time.

The case began after the province’s Ministry of Children and Family Development discovered earlier this year that a woman in Terrace, who was separated from her husband, had been leaving her eight-year-old son home alone between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day while she was at work.

According to court documents, a social worker then visited the home and informed the mother, who was not identified, that a child under the age of 10 could not be left unsupervised.

The case then went before a provincial court, where the social worker argued that “children who are eight years of age do not have the cognitive ability to be left unsupervised,” and judge ruled in favour of an interim supervision order against the mother. She later appealed the case, argued that her son was mature enough to be home alone. In September, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.

It is worth noting that B.C. does not have a minimum age for leaving a child alone for a short period of time and the Criminal Code of Canada states that “Everyone who unlawfully abandons or exposes a child who is under the age of 10 years” can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Other provinces such as Manitoba and New Brunswick have laws that make it illegal to leave a child under the age of 12 unattended, while Ontario and Quebec have similar laws.

The decision as to whether it is suitable to leave one’s child at home unattended should be left up to parents or guardians, who, in theory, know their child best. Besides, some children mature at an exceptional rate while others don’t.

If the province is going to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling, what kind of penalties would there be and more importantly, how much good would it do for the safety of the child? I imagine that child services have more important things to do, such as finding places to put children besides motels, than handle cases of children being left home alone for a few hours.

The people who will be affected most by the B.C. Supreme Court’s recent ruling are low-income, single parents and while there are options such as after-school care, it can become expensive, especially for those with multiple children.

For example, one Nanaimo-based childcare company lists on its website full-time after school fees as $260 a month per child, while another offers after school services for $350 a month per child, which works out to $3,150 over the course of a nine-month school year.

In addition to the cost, some parents work more than one job to make ends meet and after school care programs don’t always meet work schedules.

With a severe daycare shortage and an ever-increasing cost of living, both the the provincial and federal governments must work together to create a long-term plan to ensure that there are affordable daycare spaces and that prevent the law from substituting one victim for another.