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Cop's Corner: Maturity might trump a baby sitter's age

My wife and I have a young son (5 years old) who has never really had a baby sitter other than his grandparents, but we'd like to have some other options. A neighbor's 12-year-old daughter wants to gain some baby-sitting experience, but we're leery about her age. One thing I think I've learned as a parent is to trust my gut, but I'm wondering, is there a law or any guidelines as to what age a child must be to watch another? I'm hoping we can find a high school senior or college student to help us out occasionally, but any information would be appreciated.

— Russ, Prima and Dylan, Jacksonville

The only law that really pertains is the one under O.R.S. 163.545, which is child neglect in the second degree. It states that a person having custody or control of a child under 10 years of age commits the crime of child neglect if, with criminal negligence, the person leaves the child unattended in or at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child. This wording makes the baby-sitting issue a tough one.

It appears by statute that children 10 and older can be left on their own. It also states that a person must be criminally negligent, which would be arguable if the person had taken the step of finding a baby sitter. The same argument applies for leaving the child unattended. Is the statute violated if a baby sitter is present, but the baby sitter is young also, yet still 10 or older?

What this boils down to is what you said: You may have to trust your gut. Your neighbor may be a mature-for-her-age 12-year-old. At the same time, we've all known 16-year-olds whom we wouldn't trust because of their lack of common sense or maturity. So I guess it would be how well you know your prospective baby sitter.

Other things also would factor in. Would there be any cooking involved? Is it done using gas? What about wood stoves or fireplaces or swimming pools? What is the proximity of the nearest neighbor if they really needed help? It's really hard to give you a specific answer regarding how young a good baby sitter can be, but you'd think you'd be safe going with the high school senior or college student, providing you could find one that age who's willing to baby-sit.

I checked with one of my counterparts at the Medford Police Department just to make sure they don't have any city ordinances beyond the Oregon law, and he said they did not. I also checked with David Hoppe of the Jackon County District Attorney's Office, and, other than the O.R.S. listed above, there is nothing regarding baby-sitting criteria that he could find. Neither could he find anything in the Oregon Administrative Rules. He did remember that they recommend 12 years of age and up for baby sitters, but couldn't find anything to back up why they were suggesting that age.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.