Is it ever OK to leave your kids home alone? Surely, if you’re just popping out for five minutes there’s no harm? Or if they’re asleep, it’s OK, right?
Leaving your kids to stay home alone is always a difficult decision for any parent to make. On the one hand you feel you know your kids and you know they’re sensible, but on the other hand you worry that something might happen and you won’t be there to help them.
Here, we explain the expert advice around the age it’s ok to leave your kids at home alone…
What age is it OK to leave your kids home alone?
We asked you on the GoodtoKnow Facebook page ‘at what age do you think it’s ok to leave a child home alone?’, with the following results:
What does the law say?
Surprisingly, in this country there are no specific laws governing at what age you can leave your kids on their own, or for how long children can be left home alone. However, under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, parents in England and Wales can be prosecuted for wilful neglect if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’.
What does neglect mean?
Usually neglect means the parent has failed to provide basic care, such as proper food, clean, warm clothing, hasn’t given clear instructions on what to do in an emergency and hasn’t tried to prevent any dangers, such as leaving out medicines, alcohol, drugs and dangerous objects.
Neglect can also mean that the child is often left on their own, even if they are well cared for in other ways.
When it comes to court cases or issues involving social services the term neglect can be open for discussion because the law isn’t crystal clear on what is meant by neglect, suffering or injury to health.
The penalty for child neglect can be anything from a fine to up to 10 years in prison.
Can lack of emotional support be classed as neglect?
Neglect isn’t just about the physical care of a child – emotional care and safety are just as important.
The NSPCC says that emotional well-being is just as important as the child’s physical needs. ‘We know that children who are left for quite a short period of time feel lonely and isolated and they don’t like it. They like to have company.’
When is a child old enough to be left alone?
Childcare experts understand that every child is different – some are very mature at 13, others are still very immature at 15 or 16. By and large, most parents are sensible and know whether they can leave their children for short periods of time.
The NSPCC has these guidelines:
How do I choose a childminder or babysitter?
The difference between a childminder and a babysitter is that a childminder should be qualified and be registered with the local authority. Babysitters don’t need any qualifications or registration.
If you’re looking for a babysitter, remember that children under 16 can’t be held responsible for any harm that comes to your child while they’re looking after them. And that while many 16 year olds are sensible, some aren’t.
At what age would you feel comfortable leaving your child home alone? Let us know in the comments below