The question of when a child is old enough to be left alone at home by his/her parents is one that comes up time and time again.
This month I have contributed to BBC Breakfast on national TV, Radio 4’s Today programme and Radio 5 Live on this issue. Although I have written about this before I felt it would be useful to revisit this position with school holidays looming once again.
There is no set age for leaving children home alone. The law merely says that you should not leave a child alone if they will be at risk. It is for the parent to decide what is best for their child – all children mature at different rates. There is no “one size fits all” approach with this.
A parent can be prosecuted for neglect if a child is left in a situation where that child is at risk of harm. This might be when a child is left in a such a way as is likely to cause that child unnecessary suffering or injury. Prosecution might result in a fine or at worst imprisonment. It will almost certainly lead to an investigation by Children’s Services so it is perhaps best to err on the side of caution if there is any doubt as to what is appropriate.
I have found that the guidelines set out on the NSPCC website are a useful starting point;
Babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone, and
Children under the age of 12 years are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left alone for long periods
Children under the age of 16 years should not be left alone overnight.
Having considering the guidelines, it might also be good to ask your child how he/she feels about being left alone for a short period. If your child is not happy about this then you should not leave the child alone. If in doubt – don’t leave the child home alone!
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