Home alone? When is it safe to leave a child on their own?

Children around the country often count down the days to the start of the school holidays. It can however, be a challenging time for parents tasked with organising child care arrangements.

Childcare costs during the summer holidays are estimated at £120 per week per child, so it is not uncommon for parents to question at what age and for how long they are able to leave their children at home. Whilst the law does not specify an age when a child can be left on their own, it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk of harm.

Old enough to be home alone?

There are no fixed rules for parents to follow to determine whether their child is at risk of harm if they are left alone. The most important factors to consider are whether their child is mature enough to be left alone and adaptable enough to deal with situations that might occur in their parents’ absence. All children are different and parents will have to assess their own children before making the decision to leave them home on their own.

Guidance published by the NSPCC suggests that children aged 12 years and under are rarely mature enough to be left on their own and that children aged 16 years and under should not be left alone overnight.

Further guidance from the NSPCC recommends that parents discuss the prospect of being left alone with their child to gauge how they feel about it and, to run through scenarios with the child to assess how they might respond should a situation occur. Parents should work with their child to ensure that they have everything that they will need such as, a plentiful supply of food and drink, contact numbers, accurate timings of when the parents will return and scheduled regular check-up telephone calls.

Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’. If prosecuted under legislation a parent could be fined and/or sent to prison and may face intervention from Social Services and the police.

If you would like to discuss any family matter, please call our Chichester office on 01243 850860, our Alton office on 01420 544 273, or email chichester@jcsolicitors.com or alton@jcsolicitors.com