August 21st, 2014

Unattended Children link fu


Back in the day, parents who would not risk leaving their kids at a playground (like, ever) would let them hang out at a library. There are a ton of children's books that are older than I am that describe in loving detail the relationships that developed between librarians and children who were not with caregivers. Librarians, in practice, are not so enamored of this, at least not today. A few years ago, I watched Mayberry's (<-- not its real name) town library wrestle with the unattended child policy.

So what do these policies look like and how common are they?

That's about what I would want the policy to be. Your illegal, underage babysitter and/or sibling can be there with a younger kid as long as the sitter has ID and is at least 14.

Michigan sounds downright cruel, potentially!

"A child or group of children who have been warned of disruptive behavior and/or excessive noise, and continue to exhibit the behavior will be asked to leave the facility." The rest of the text suggests that they aren't talking about 7 and unders here, but it seems at least possible that Clare's library would just boot a bunch of 8 year olds for being rowdy, and if there were no parents to pick them up they'd be on their own.

Idaho, land of libertarians, has this to say:

Don't drop your 10 and unders off and expect us to take care of them! Also, pedophiles! The usual caregiver can be as young as 14 rule.

Time limits appear to be another way to deal with the we aren't your babysitter! problem. No cell phone use in library and no public phone -- I understand why, but yikes. This is what librarians struggle with when local parenting standards do not involve hiring caregivers for one's own children beyond the age of 8.

Aurora, CO seems to understand there might be relevant labor law; they require 16 year old caregivers, "with no exceptions".

Unlike Clare, they have a plan for what will happen to disruptive youth that doesn't involve booting them out the door unattended.:

"Disruptive children, attended or unattended may be asked to leave the library after one warning. In such instances, parents will be contacted or, if the parent is unavailable, police custody will be utilized."

In case you didn't grasp the implications:

"If a child age 15 and under is left unattended at the time of closing and attempts to reach the parents have failed, the North Aurora Police Department will be called to take responsibility for the child."

If you don't have your own car at closing time, we're calling the cops. I'm betting this is because of dangerous roads/climate and a total lack of useful public transportation.

Here's a shocker: "Children up to age 10 must have a parent/caregiver in the immediate vicinity of, and in visual contact with them. The assigned caregiver must be a responsible person and must carry emergency contact information. ... [standard exception for kids at the puppet show or other program while parent finds a mystery to read] ... If the parent/caregiver cannot be found, or if the child is found unattended again, the Sheriff’s department will be called for assistance."


If you are in Massachusetts or the PacNW or a rich area near DC, or the Bay Area or whatever, you very rarely see unattended children. They go from attended in strollers to attended in play spaces (public or otherwise) to attended in parks and playgrounds to structured sports and other activities. Everyone is well-behaved and the caregiver rushes over apologetically whenever the little one kicks sand in someone's face. In this environment, a hypothetical unattended kid seems like not too much of a problem. The other caregivers can gang up on any troublemaker and deal with it or just remove their own charges from the scene.

But if you are in Idaho or Colorado or Michigan or Louisiana and a whole lot of kids are unattended, parks and playgrounds look kinda dangerous and dropping the kiddo off at the library for a couple hours after school or maybe all day on a holiday or whatever might seem like a safe child care solution when you cannot afford something else -- or they cancel due to illness. And the librarians of Idaho and Colorado and Michigan and Louisiana are unamused.

Reason picked public parks for a reason, I think. The law on leaving kids unattended in homes is pretty sparse (guidelines only) and libertarians like it that way. Obvs, a libertarian isn't going to want unattended kids running around in backyards other than their own (another thing that was common Back In the Day); advocating for unattended children At Large would inhibit the right to Shoot On Sight in response to trespass. Stand your ground/the Castle doctrine is already in enough trouble. There's no way it would survive this argument: "It was posted No Trespassing!" "The child you shot can't read/wasn't tall enough to see the posting." Private businesses can decide who they want to serve or not serve -- libertarians aren't going to mess that up. Unattended kids in the street (another public space) is an interesting question, but I think the I Want To Drive Fast Through Residential Areas rule beat the Let Parents Decide What Their Kids Can and Cannot Do rule. If kids can legitimately play in quiet streets then safe speed will inevitably reduce, and libertarians Do Not Like (I say this with confidence, because I've heard them on the subject enough times and read them even more).

I'm not sure what's left other than public parks.

I may or may not add to this. I would vastly prefer to go digging around in radar signal processing.

Cars with Radar

Apparently, while I wasn't paying adequate attention, several high end cars rolled out radar in-vehicle to detect cars in front of them (sometimes with an autobrake feature if you ignore the warning), to the side (blind spot) and behind (so you don't back into something at the grocery store).

Let me begin by saying clearly. I DO NOT CARE HOW WELL IT WORKS IN INDIVIDUAL CARS. I'm sure it works pretty well. Will autobrake someday be triggered inappropriately? Of course. Do people brake for squirrels? Yes. Potentially lethal and a big deal for anyone directly affected, but not a reason not to have brakes or cars or autobrake as long as autobrake isn't being triggered inappropriately every few blocks. I could see it as an argument against squirrels, but that fluffy tail is way too effective for their side so I'll just leave that one alone.

But as soon as I found out about radar in cars, I really had one question and only one question: what happens when a lot of cars, say even most of the cars, have radar systems running all the time to the front and to the sides (we'll ignore the backing up one on the premise it's comparatively rare on the freeway) on a 6 lane highway with cars separated by a few car lengths and moving at an average speed above 50 mph? Is there an interference problem? Does it degrade performance of the sensing systems? Are there health consequences? R. is dismissive of this as any kind of problem, but we seem headed for this world kinda fast. (Har de har har) And I'm pretty sure that no one has ever tested radar systems in this kind of environment.

Please prove me wrong. With sourcing.


R. pointed out last night that to get the Top Safety Pick Plus rating from IIHS, a car has to have some kind of sensing system. I noted that the time frame from "important safety feature is available at all" to "important safety feature is mandatory" is way shorter than we usually realize -- on the order of a decade. Which for some people is forever, obvs, but not actually that long.

We will all apparently love it when we have it.

Component cost is high but falling.

"Engineers have done their part by ditching the expensive compound semiconductors in their radar sets in favor of the old standby, silicon—but a special form of silicon that's been speeded up."

If there really is a problem with active radar systems operating in close proximity at high speeds, one possible solution is passive radar systems (which already exist). If your IR vision system is a problem because everyone else has active goggles on, too, you can solve that by turning off your IR light and using a shared light. Presumably the same could work for cars, too. I'm in no way suggesting the shared radar source would come with control -- it wouldn't have to. It would just have to be in a known location, emitting at known frequencies, angles, etc. so the reflections could be interpreted correctly by the vehicles using it. I think these are all solvable problems, but just because there is a solution doesn't mean you don't have to work to implement it. (Contrary to the way that mathematicians in jokes think about things. "Go down to the basement. From there, it is a solved problem.")

More radar gives more options:

Will radar systems for crash avoidance trigger another car's radar detector (designed to detect police speed surveillance)?

Not in this test, anyway.

Car radar could make the roads safer for cycling:

These people offer retrofitting for warning, not to autobrake or anything like that:

Hey, look we have patents! And details.

In the EU

Things never develop as fast as you want them to and, depressingly, managing frequency really is an issue.

Leaving the kiddos unsupervised at home and elsewhere

According to this,

"Only three States currently
have laws regarding a minimum age for
leaving a child home alone. Illinois law
requires children to be 14 years old before
being left alone; in Maryland, the minimum
age is 8, while in Oregon, children must be
10 before being left home alone."

We have clearly not attained any kind of agreement on this yet. Note this is specifically about _at home_. The dangers inherent in alone-at-home vs. unattended-at-a-library vs. unattended-at-a-public-park are unclear (that is, I have a theory about the ranking, and I don't think it would be hard to get people to disagree with me).

Here's Massachusetts law on kids-unattended-in-vehicles. FWIW, I recently left my son (then 8, now 9) in a vehicle in a parking lot of a CVS while I went in to get something. I was gone for maybe 10 minutes and he had his cell phone with him and clearly understood he wasn't to get out of the vehicle. It was after dark and the temperature was moderate, but it was not late at night. I had some reservations about this, but decided to do it anyway. Looks like I was on the OK side of the law, albeit probably showing bad judgment (altho nothing like the bad judgment my parents showed leaving my older sister in the car unattended in our driveway, long before I was born. Damage to a fence across the street occurred. I wouldn't leave my kids unattended in a car parked on a hill. Duh.).

"Neglect means failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., neglect can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting.)"" I _love_ that this revolves around "adequate" meeting of needs. I just used this word when talking about the law's interest in regulating the care of children, and I was really emphatic that "better" couldn't be a policy goal, because you would never know when to stop interfering.
"Adequate" was the only thing that mattered from my perspective and I live in a place that apparently agrees with me.

Later on the same page:

"In Commonwealth v. Nebel, 59 Mass. App. Ct. 316, 321 (2003), the court explained that briefly leaving a child alone in a car was not child abandonment under MGL c.119, s.39:

"If this activity [leaving child alone in car], albeit ill-advised, were meant to be criminalized, the Legislature could have written a more extensive child endangerment statute. Compare 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/12-21.6 (b) (West 2002) ("There is a rebuttable presumption that a person committed the offense [endangering the life or health of a child] if he or she left a child 6 years of age or younger unattended in a motor vehicle for more than 10 minutes"). That the actions of the defendant were foolish and a lapse of judgment, as DSS observed, is self-evident. To equate abandonment with poor judgment, however, is a leap we are not prepared to take. The defendant left his daughter for an undetermined amount of time, traveling a relatively short distance away. There was no indication that he did not have the intention to return shortly; indeed the evidence was to the contrary. This cannot form the basis for a criminal conviction of abandonment.""

Connect the dots is such a shitty state. Apparently only boys will ever be left home alone.

Or maybe girls have a different, or no, set of rules? That page mentions 15 as a guideline for when children can start caring for other children. Look, I don't want to hear your stories about when you started babysitting. I started when I was 12. I was doing _overnight_ babysitting for 3 kids including one still in diapers when I was 14. Okay? I would never hire me-as-a-teenager to babysit my kids. I have no idea what those people were thinking. I have often wondered how babysitting interacts with child labor law.

"15. Do child labor laws apply to babysitting?

No. Youth employed as babysitters are not covered by the FLSA's child labor and wage and hour provisions. In most cases the same is true of state law. For more information you may want to contact your state's labor standards office."

*eye roll*

I really do grasp the concept of harm mitigation. I do. But there comes a year when letting teenage kids have a party with alcohol at home to mitigate the harm of drinking and driving is actually _worse_ than the drinking and driving risk, because there's been good success stamping out teen drinking and driving, and those house parties have become the primary risk. Good policy is about figuring out when that year is, and then enforcing about five years later.

This confirms that babysitting isn't subject to the minimum wage rule.

The next time you're thinking how great things would be if we would all just relax, try this one for size:

4 year old leaves house and crosses street alone. Someone finds the four year old and reports to the police. I don't find this unreasonable (that's what I would want to have happen! What if I had a stroke or fell down the basement steps and was unconscious?) but the blogger sure did.

This, however, has my all time most flabbergasting story:

2010, Alberta, so real rural and conservative vs. whatever you may be expecting from Canada.

"An Alberta girl was served a lawsuit last week after the home of the children she was babysitting burned down. Although her father says the suit has since been withdrawn, the case raises questions about the responsibilities placed on young sitters."

The grandparents sued the babysitter (then withdrew) BECAUSE THE HOUSE BURNED DOWN. Yikes. That crazy worst fear we all had as youngsters trying to cook mac n cheese for the kiddos? Oh yeah, it happened, altho apparently it was a kiddo with a Bic instead.

Having read through a whole lot of these articles (including way more than I included), here is what I think is going on. Anyone who can easily afford to hire trained adults to watch their kids (either in a group format or in their home) will tend to do so for a lot longer than people for whom that expense is very difficult. The people who are _most_ likely to push hard for a comparatively low babysitting age are people who have 3 or more children who are spread out in age so that the oldest child is 12 or older at a point in time where the youngest is 6 or under. Obvs, the youngest cannot be unattended. Equally obvs, it would be nice to not have to arrange or pay for someone else to come to the house and babysit.

Back In the Day, having kids spread out over a 6+ year range wasn't that unusual. But in a world in which many women try to have their two children as close in age as possible (ideally twins, I swear, it sometimes seems like) so as to minimize the total time taken off work, the "built in babysitter" is basically gone from most families. By the time one of your kids is old enough to babysit, the other kid is old enough to not really need one and your biggest risk is that they'll either go find trouble together, or kill each other during unsupervised time.

I foresee some legal evolution here, altho I'm not sure exactly how I think it's going to go. Clearly, the current parenting strategy is group activities to help bring the price down. My martial arts instructor regularly offered kids' nite out so parents could have date night. My kids' gymnastics place does so occasionally as well. In both instances, older students -- generally under the age of 18 -- help run structured activities (martial arts/gymnastics, free play on the equipment, snacks, watch a movie, arts and crafts) generally with at least one and often more than one over 18 year old on site.

This is not either one of those, but gives a sense of what I'm talking about:

And another, at the Newton YMCA:

6-9 is pretty typical, as is $20-$25, with less money for siblings and a break if you are currently registered in a program at the facility.

Someone is trying to roll out a franchise version of it.

Rather than kids unsupervised during the summer time, it is normal for them to be heavily programmed at day camps, rec programs, etc. Rather than kids unsupervised after school and before parents return home from work, parents pay for Xday or Boys' and Girls' Club or similar.

At some point, it will become so incredibly unusual to do things in the way that was once common, that all of the things which convinced individuals to change may eventually convince the group that children should be protected from the risks that we once took for granted. We adopted seat belts. We have air bags. We've done a lot to eliminate smoking in public places. Will we one day look, not with nostalgia, but rather incredulity, at underpaid and underage babysitters, and not see an opportunity to make money and become more independent, but instead a young person at risk from sexual assault by the parent of the children [s]he is caring for, and a group of children that ought to instead be in the care of a person whose frontal lobe has actually maybe finished developing? I bet we'll know before I have grandkids.


Ends with some comparisons to dog walking charges. Ha!


Warning on this one -- it starts with a summary of a very tragic young babysitter/bad outcome situation.

AAP quoted as saying 13 years old minimum.

Red Cross courses have an 11 year minimum?

Sounds like safesitter is transitioning to presenting sitter training as a way to teach kids how to stay home safely alone, not just care for others.

Whoa. Germany doesn't have a minimum wage law. Really?

Great English language article about Dutch childcare cost supports:

"lunch-break" is, I believe, kids at school come home for lunch, definitely during the early
years, possibly all the way through. I was shocked when I found that out, too.