This week there seems to have been much discussion on TV about the right age to leave children alone at home - it's a question I am often asked by clients, so what is the 'right age'?
First, let me dispel the myth - many parents seem to believe that the law says no child should be left alone at home under the age of 14 years but there is no such law in place that makes any provision for a given age.
That said, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 made it a crime to 'neglect' a child. 'Neglect' could include many things ranging from inadequate clothing of a child to a child being left alone in their own home for long periods of time - that may include a child of any age, even over the age of 14.
This leaves parents having to make their own judgement call on the question of the 'right age'.
The answer will vary from child to child dependent on their maturity and I believe that the circumstances would have to be considered. How long would the child be alone? Would emergency help be at hand if this was necessary? What is the reason for having to leave the child alone?
I would add a final word of warning - the age which was 'acceptable' when parents are living together in a mutually supportive relationship can somehow become 'unacceptable' when the same parents, following a separation, are entangled in disputes relating to the children. One parent will sometimes level criticism at the other parent who leaves a child home alone whether justifiable or otherwise.
My advice to clients asking about leaving a child alone, is 'if in doubt - don't'. Organise sensible child care and do not provide the other parent (or indeed the Court) with reason to raise concern.
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