House Fire Investigation Leads to Questions About What Age to Leave Children at Home


CHICO, Calif. - New details are emerging regarding a woman who was arrested for leaving an eight-year-old girl and nine-year-old girl alone in a home that later caught fire.

Today investigators told us that the fire was incendiary, meaning it was caused by a person or device. The fire is being called, 'suspicious' but firefighters stopped short of calling it arson.

Rebecca Laughlin-Moralez said she was not at her York Dr. home when the blaze broke out on Friday morning when her two daughters were alone inside.

The girls made it out and told the neighbors.

One of the girls was sleeping in a car outside of the home. Both girls are now in the care of Child Protective Services.

Our coverage of this story has generated a lot of interest on social media, as well as an array of questions including – when is okay to leave your child home alone?

"I think if there is a line, it's probably in the sand," Sgt. Mike Nelson of the Chico Police Dept. said. Sgt. Nelson told us that he could not comment on the Moralez case specifically, but he said that in California, there is no legal age stipulated on when a child can be left at home alone.

However, there are many questions a parent or guardian should ask before leaving children by themselves. They are the same ones that officers ask children who are left in dangerous situations by their parents.

"Whether or not they know what to do in an emergency, if there is an emergency situation while they are by themselves, do they know where their parents are or how to get in contact with them in case of an emergency?" Nelson said. "If there is an emergency, do they know to call 9-11?"

The Sierra Coalition – a group of child abuse prevention councils from 15 California counties – suggests that only a child over 10 may be ready for consideration to be left at home alone.

In this case, Ms. Moralez's children were age eight and nine, not far from the age 10 recommendation. But in this case, her children were left at home overnight. And there may be several other factors that have not been released which could have led to her arrest.

With no specific legal guidelines, parents need to use extreme caution and sound judgement, factors that the court will decide if Ms. Moralez did or did not use last Thursday.

For more on the Sierra Coalition or for more information on whether or not your children are ready to be left on their own, visit the Sierra Coalition website.

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