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When is a child legally old enough to babysit?

Q. When is a child legally old enough to babysit?

A. This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions that parents ask the Legal Resource Centre. Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer. No Alberta law exists that stipulates at what age exactly a child may legally be left in charge of other children.

Neither the Child Welfare Act nor the Domestic Relations Act give any guidance into what is acceptable, athough child abandonment in extreme circumstances is addressed. It seems to be commonly accepted in Alberta that children should be about twelve before they babysit, but this is a matter of custom and community practice and not law.

Recently, I came across a pamphlet prepared by the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan that deals with this question. It is called Legal Facts about Babysitting: Information for Young People Who Babysit. It is a fountain of valuable information, both legal and practical.

As in Alberta, there is no law in Saskatchewan that gives an age at which a child may babysit. Parents, using their best judgement and common sense, must decide. Parents should consider the prospective babysitter's age and maturity, experience, the age and number of children to be babysat, the duration of the "sit" and whether there are any special needs or circumstances of the children to be considered. They might also askif the child has completed a babysitting course. Parents also have responsibilities to the babysitter. They should be sure to choose a babysitter suitable for their particular children; give clear instructions on how to care for the children, especially if there are special circumstances; make sure that their house is safe: (for example, no broken stairs, dangerous materials etc.); return home at a stated time or telephone if there is a delay and give instructions on how to deal with telephone calls or persons who come to the door. An emergency contact person or some way of contacting the parents (for example the telephone number of the place they will be) as well as a list of emergency numbers for the police, doctor or fire department would also be a sensible precaution.

What are the expectations of a babysitter? The Saskatchewan pamphlet suggests that a babysitter is responsible for looking after the children in a way that is appropriate for their ages; keeping them safe; following all instructions given by the parents and giving medication only on the parent's instructions and never on the babysitter's initiative.

What can a child do to prepare to be a responsible babysitter? Many community leagues in Alberta offer babysitting courses. These courses usually last one full day and cover a wide range of topics. Generally a child must be eleven years old to take the course. The cost is usually quite reasonable, to encourage children to enroll.

Provincial labour laws relating to the minimum wage and holiday pay do not apply to young babysitters. A person must work as a domestic before these rules apply: that is someone who is hired to care for children and provide housekeeping services for a certain number of hours on a regular basis. Children who babysit should arrange in advance with the parents the hourly wage they will be paid. This agreement is a legal contract.

The Saskatchewan pamphlet also addresses what might happen if something goes wrong. If the babysitter breaks something the parents might be able to get their household insurance to cover the loss or work out a compromise with the sitter about who pays. It cautions that it is possible for the parents to sue. It might be the babysitter's fault if he or she did not take proper care in the situation or did not act reasonably for someone of their age and maturity. The babysitter's parents might also be liable if they knew of their child's actions and did not intervene; gave advice that their child followed or allowed their child to take on a situation they knew or ought to have known the child couldn't handle.

There might be some differences between babysitting practices as outlined in this pamphlet and other Canadian centres, but generally, I found this pamphlet very useful and practical. It certainly fills a void in the information that both parents and babysitting children want and need.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Legal Resource Centre of Alberta Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Teresa Mitchell
Date:Feb 1, 1996
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