At What Age Is Your Child Old Enough To Stay At Home Alone?

11 November 2014

Home Alone

It's not easy to determine when your child is old enough to stay at home alone, but one mother is fighting to have a police caution erased from her record, which she was given eight years ago for leaving her six-year-old son at home on his own for 45 minutes.

The law isn't particularly specific on the matter. According to the Children and Young Person's Act, parents can be prosecuted for leaving a child unsupervised 'in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’ but there is no legal age limit for leaving a child alone at home.

We've been discussing this among the Playpennies team and while we all agree that we wouldn't leave a six-year-old at home alone for any length of time, one of our gang was quick to point out that she feels this is an issue of privilege. "What are you supposed to do if you have to go to work and have no one to look after a sick child, for example?" she asks. "Some people really do have lack of options."

On the other hand, we've also heard our fair share of horror stories whereby children were left at home alone in seemingly safe situations but with tragic outcomes. Equally, one of our team recalls being left in charge of her siblings when she was around 7 years old. And for all that parents proclaim that they would never leave a child at home alone, I'm always surprised by the number of children you see left unattended in cars while their parents dash into a local shop. Is that really any different?

The NSPCC advises that children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time, while babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left unsupervised, and children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.

The Daily Mail reports that the woman who left her son at home alone did so "while she had a driving lesson – her last before her driving test" and returned home to find the police on her doorstep after a nurse called at the house and the child opened the door. The mother consequently attended her local police station where she was given a caution, and says she has since struggled to secure a University place to train as a mental health nurse due to the impact of having a police caution on her record. She has said:

"I am now trying to get this removed. My son is 14, at school and absolutely fine." 

What's your view?

Image credit: Flickr/impetus2

2 comments

  • Mzeden
    I think some people need to get their priorities right. Your children come first. Before driving lessons, before work, before everything! To answer the question re leaving a sick child cos there's none to look after them and you have to go to work - you don't. You look after your sick child and go to work later when help turns up. No job should be more important than your kids.
  • danesbury
    I think some people need to get their priorities right. Your children come first. Before driving lessons, before work, before everything! To answer the question re leaving a sick child cos there's none to look after them and you have to go to work - you don't. You look after your sick child and go to work later when help turns up. No job should be more important than your kids.
    And what if going to work is the only thing that's going to put food on the table for that child later on? Or the only thing that's going to provide heating and shelter for that child? This is why it's a matter of privilege, sure if I'm a perfectly comfortable, middle class parent, with a stable job, then it's easy to say 'yeah sure, I'll stay and look after the child', but if you're being paid minimum wage, on a job that does pay sick leave, with no savings, it actually is necessary to go to work to look after that child. Tbh, I'd rather leave the child for a few hours so that they are fully fed, sheltered and warm than stay behind and look after them.

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