Children home alone
There is no legal age limit for leaving a child on their own, but it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk. Parents can be prosecuted for neglect if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’ (Children and Young Person’s Act). Constantly leaving a child alone is classed as neglect, which is a form of child abuse.
Parents therefore need to give careful thought to the following before they leave their child alone:
- Ages of children, and their levels of maturity and understanding
- How long they would be left
- Time of day
- If there are contact numbers in case of emergency
- Do the children know what to do in an emergency? Do they know how to make a phone call?
- Do the phones work? Are mobiles charged and have credit?
- Is there a neighbour watching?
- Are there other relations who can be contacted?
The NSPCC also gives the following advice:
- If possible, leave a telephone number where you can be contacted, and be available to answer it immediately.
- Talk to your child about keeping safe at home and point out the potential dangers. Tell them not to answer the door to strangers.
- Give clear instructions about what to do if there's an emergency. All children left alone should be able to phone the emergency services.
- Leave a list of trusted people they can contact.
- Put obvious dangers out of reach of children, eg medicines, chemicals, matches, etc.
- Make sure that the child is happy about the arrangements and confident about being left.
- Tell the child when you'll be back, and make sure you're back on time.
- Talk to him or her about it afterwards.
Parents should be advised that if a member of the public rings to report a child home alone, they will be referred to the Police who have powers of entry if necessary.