At what age is it okay to leave a child alone in the house?
There is actually (quiet surprisingly) no law about not leaving your child home alone (regardless of age), but it IS an offence if in doing so you put them at risk (source) – Child and Young Person’s Act 1968.
Punishment can range from a fine to 10 years imprisonment.
Or leaving them alone in the bath? Any different leaving them in the car – say to pay for petrol?
Does it make a difference as to why they are home alone? They are ill; asleep; you have to work cannot afford or think childcare is unnecessary; latchkey kids; want a social life and there is no childcare available; child/ren don’t want to come with you; the child/ren want to be given some responsibility; it’s late and you need to go to the shop.
If they are ill do you worry that their condition may worsen whilst you are away? Or what if they suddenly become ill?
Is it just lazy parenting not making our children come with us, or ensuring they have “proper” childcare? Too much responsibility for children? Risky? Or morally wrong? Is it any more dangerous than allowing a teenager to go abroad with friends?
What happens if something happens to you? (for example a road accident)?
Does it matter if someone else knows that your child is alone? And how far away that person is? If they have a key? If it is a relative down the road? A neighbour?
What kind of area you live in?
Or that your child has someone to go to?
Have mobile phones made a difference, as we can now ring home and they can ring us (help)?
Or do you tell your children not to let people know they are alone so that they do not draw attention to themselves, possibly making themselves more vulnerable?
What it is that concerns you about whether it is okay to leave your child? Do we consider examples such as Madeline McCann?
Is it better they are safe in the warm (house) than playing out or walking to school alone, at risk of strangers and road traffic?
Is playing outside dangerous – and we think about the likes of Sarah Payne? or April Jones? Or are they safer playing out as there is more likely to be an adult around who can take responsibility for them if something does go wrong? What about the weather – sunny or snowing?
Do we need to relax and stop worrying about everything? That these are very rare occurrences. That, at the right age and in the right way, it encourages independence?
Does it matter where you are going? Quickly popping to the corner shop; school run with other children; big food shop; night out (socialising);work; a day out; a holiday; because they don’t want to go. How far away we are? Can we get back to them in time if they need help?
Does the length of time make a difference? A few minutes, An hour, Coming home from school alone until you get home, a few hours, all day, over night?
The time of day/night? Whether they are awake or asleep? Whether it spans across a time when they will need feeding? Will dinner be cooking? Or will they have to feed themselves? Will this involve cookers, sharp knives etc? Will they know what to do if something goes wrong – like a fire. Will their be appliances on – washing machine/dishwasher – that may leak.
How regularly are we leaving them? Is it a one off? Weekly? Daily?
If they are locked in the house? With or without a key. Do they know how to get out? (such as in the event of a fire). How about the door just being unlocked? Will they answer the door to others? If not, what if someone is trying to alert them to an emergency, putting them in danger?
The individual child. Are some children more “mature” than others. Or is age a pretty good defining factor? Do you trust them to behave? Will they invite friends in? And will they behave? Do they show signs of responsibility with other things such as following instructions, household chores and homework? Are they calm when things do not go as planned? Can they handle unexpected situations? Are they safe? Are they a risk taker? Good stranger danger? Do they know any basic first aid?
Does it make a difference if they have been left before? Should they be left with increasing amounts of time (building up their confidence and knowledge).
What about leaving them in charge of other children? And does their age matter? Babies? Toddlers? Preteens? How about how they get on? How many children there are? And the ages of those children as well as the oldest child (in charge). The personalities of those children – will they do as the oldest one says?
Do you set ground rules? Who to have over, what to eat, what they are allowed to do (computer games), whether they need to do any chores? Answering the phone or door?
Whilst there is no age-related laws about leaving children alone there are guidelines.
- A baby or young child should NEVER be left alone for ANY amount of time.
- Children under 12 may not be mature enough to be alone. That those 8-11 years should only be left alone for short periods.
- Carers/Babysitters should be over the age of 16. If anything goes wrong and they are under 16 then you will still be held accountable.
- Under 16s should not be left alone overnight.
Whilst in America the Guidelines are different:
- Under 7s must not be left home alone at all for any amount of time. Depending on how likely they would be able to intervene if the child became in danger in its environment also extends to the back garden, car, and playground.
- During daylight hours and early evening, children aged 8-10 years may be left up to 90 minutes.
- Those 11 to 12 years can be left up to 3 hours, as long as it is not late at night and in appropriate circumstances.
- 13 to 15 years – can stay home alone but not overnight.
- 16 to 17 years – can be left overnight – in some circumstances for up to 2 consecutive nights.