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Until what age do kids need direct supervision? Well, it depends: Keenan

“Are we really to believe it would be illegal for anyone under 16 to board a Toronto bus without their parents?” columnist asks.

At what age can kids be allowed to travel on their own by bus to school?

Torstar News Service

At what age can kids be allowed to travel on their own by bus to school?

Does a kid in Ontario really have to be 16 years old before he or she can be left unsupervised?

Well, first of all, by that age, we’re talking about young men and women, not really “kids” anymore, unless they’re hockey players or gunslingers in need of a nickname.

They’ve left what we usually think of as childhood behind and are emerging from adolescence into adulthood.

I mean, I know times change, but Alexander the Great had founded a colony by that age, Mozart was having his symphonies and operas performed by that age, Malala Yousafzai was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by that age.

Are we to believe it would have been illegal for them to board a Toronto bus without their parents?

It seemed so this week, when it was widely reported, by the Toronto SunThe Globe and MailCanadian Press, and Global, among others, that the legislated age at which a child can be left unattended in this province is 16.

This was all in reporting on the case of a Vancouver man who had been told his children, aged seven to 11, were too young to be allowed to take public transit to school on their own together. BC child protection authorities told him no child could be unattended anywhere— they could not be on their own on the bus, at the park, at home, walking to the store — until they reached age 10. And that no one under 12 could act as a supervisor of children under 10.

“He said the ministry said its decision was based on a British Columbia court ruling that found an eight-year-old could not be left at home alone. It also said that, in other provinces, the legal age to be unsupervised is much higher, including 16 in Ontario . . . . ,” said the CP report that ran on the Star’s website.

You’ve got to imagine this news would come as a shock to Toronto’s many thousands of grade nine and 10 students who take the TTC to school every day, that legally their parents are supposed to be there holding their hands. Or the many 15-year-old neighbourhood babysitters, who it seemed still required babysitting themselves.

It can’t be true, can it?

No. It isn’t true that young men and women under 16 need to be under direct parental or adult supervision at all times.

Of course not.

There is a section of the Child and Family Services Act that says parents are responsible to make “provision for his or her supervision or care that is reasonable under the circumstances” until their child is 16.

But that doesn’t mean that kid can’t walk to the store alone.

“This shouldn’t be read as no child under 16 can be left unattended. It is about the parent or caregiver being responsible for that child,” Sean McGrady, a spokesperson for Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, writes in an email.

It’s about being responsible for the care of the young person, not dictating the form that care must take.

And certainly not mandating direct supervision at all times.

Not coincidentally, 16 is the age in Ontario when a person is free to choose to leave home and live on their own if they want to, and the age at which they no longer require a legal guardian. It’s the age of emancipation from parental control and responsibility, not the age of no longer needing a nanny.

So what is the age of being allowed to ride the bus alone?

McGrady wouldn’t comment directly.

“What might be considered reasonable supervision and care obviously varies depending on both the circumstances and the child. Different children have different capacities and needs,” he says.

For a child of a certain maturity, care and supervision might mean ensuring they have proper access to transit fare, and responsible adults they can call should they need help, and are aware of the route. For others, the level of care might be different.

“There is no law in Ontario that dictates a specific age at which a child can be left unsupervised. The law is purposefully vague when it comes to choosing a specific age, because there are many variables to take into consideration,” says a brochure from the Toronto Children’s Aid society McGrady forwarded for further reading. “One eleven-year old may feel comfortable being left alone, and know what to do in case of an emergency, while another eleven-year-old may feel nervous and unsure of himself.”

But many local societies do share guidelines.

“Children under the age of 10 years should not be left alone. Children under the age of 12 years should not be left alone to care for other children,” says a page on the Simcoe Muskoka family Connexions website, seemingly in general agreement with the B.C. authorities who started the whole debate.

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services sent along a statement offering further clarification of the law, agreeing with what McGrady told me. “Parents and caregivers are often in the best place to make a decision about the safety and wellbeing of their child. Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act sets out the grounds for when a child is in need of protection. It does not specify an age at which a child can be left alone, recognizing that age alone is not a sufficient safeguard when considering the supervision of children,” the statement says.

“The CFSA sets out to protect young people from any type of abuse or neglect. To this end, under the CFSA, ‎all parents and caregivers must make reasonable plans, which will vary, according to a child’s age, maturity and circumstances, for the supervision of kids under 16 in their care.”

So, if there’s a 15-year-old out there who was suddenly concerned about the date to the movies she had Friday night, she can rest easy; there’s no law saying her folks have to come along as chaperones.

Whether that’s reassuring for her parents or not is, I guess, up to them.

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