- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

A Burtonsville mother of three — whose 7-year-old son is being called a hero for leading his brothers to safety from a fire Saturday — is the latest Maryland parent to run afoul of the state’s home-alone law.

Sherrie Parker left her three sons ages 7, 6, and 1 alone in their apartment for about 20 minutes to make a phone call shortly before 10 p.m., when a microwave caught fire, police said. The 7-year-old boy grabbed his younger brothers and went to a neighbor’s apartment.

“The 7-year-old reacted well with the situation and found an adult,” said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County fire department.

Miss Parker, 28, was issued a criminal citation for leaving her children home without supervision. The penalty, which can be up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, will be decided later in court.

Maryland and Illinois are the only states that have laws specifying the age that children can be left home alone, according to the National Child Care Information Center. Other states, such as Virginia, maintain only guidelines.

“In 1998, we convened a panel to look at our current rules and make decisions to whether those guidelines should stay intact,” said Elizabeth Spell, a supervisor at Fairfax County Child Protective Services. “This was a communitywide group, and we came up with certain new guidelines. The main thing we publicize is that they’re only guidelines — probably minimal guidelines — and a whole array of factors should be included in deciding what to do.”

If children are left alone to the point of being in danger or considered by the state to be neglected, parents can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, Ms. Spell said. A Class 1 misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Under the Fairfax County guidelines, children 7 and younger cannot be left alone for any period of time. Children between 8 and 10 years old can be left alone for no more than 90 minutes and only during the day or early evening, and 11- and 12-year-olds can be left alone for up to three hours, but not late at night. Children 13 to 15 years old can be left unsupervised, but not overnight, the guidelines show.

In Maryland, state law says children younger than 8 cannot be left unattended or in the care of anyone younger than 13. Children are not necessarily removed from the home when parents are found neglectful. Instead, situations are judged on a case-by-case basis.

Last month, Soo Choul Park, 45, of Rockville, was cited when he left his 5-year-old son home alone to get coffee at a 7-Eleven and talk to a store manager about a job.

A police officer found the boy alone when he went to the residence to follow up on an animal complaint. Mr. Park was issued a criminal citation for leaving an unattended child in a building. Mr. Park told police that he was charged with child neglect two years ago for leaving his child home alone.

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