Is it illegal to leave your child at home alone?

Parents are often confused about what age they leave their child at home alone and for how long. But what is the law for a child home alone in the UK?

There is no law setting out the exact age you can leave your child home alone. But, it is an offence to leave your child at home alone if it puts them at risk of harm.

 

Can I leave my child home alone?

There is guidance from the NSPCC. This suggests it is never appropriate to leave a child under the age of 12 years of age at home unsupervised for any length of time. And that a child under the age of 16 years of age should never be left alone overnight.

This is however only guidance, and there are other aspects to consider.

Parents should consider the following when deciding whether to leave their child at home alone:

  1. How old is the child,
  2. How mature is the child,
  3. What length of time will the child will be left alone?
  4. How frequently will the child be left alone?
  5. How does the child feel about being left alone?
  6. Are there any obvious risks to the child?
  7. Would the child know what to do in an emergency?
  8. How does the child feel about being left alone?
  9. Are there any other children who will be left with them, and what are their ages, level of maturity and understanding?

All these factors should be considered to determine whether it is reasonable to leave your child home alone.

For example, it may be reasonable to leave a 12-year-old at home for 10 minutes, while you pop to the shop. But it wouldn’t be reasonable to leave a 15-year-old home alone for a fortnight while you go on holiday.

 

How should I prepare to leave my child home alone?

There are a number of steps a parent can take before leaving a child at home alone to limit the risks.

  1. Make sure the child has a contact telephone number for you, so if they need to they can reach you. You can also provide phone numbers for family or friends if they are unable to reach you.
  2. Explain to your child what to do in an emergency. For example, calling 999 if there is a fire.
  3. Ensure your child is aware of safety in the home and advise them not to answer the door to strangers.
  4. Check-in regularly with your child by phone to ensure they are safe and well.
  5. If you have neighbours you trust, you can explain the situation and ask them to keep an eye out.
  6. Remove any obvious dangers.
  7. Explain to your child where you will be and what time you expect to be back. If you are likely to be late let them know.

 

What are the legal consequences of leaving my child home alone?

If you leave your child at home alone when it is unreasonable to do so you could face prosecution and Children’s Services involvement.

Under the Children and Young Persons Act 1993, a parent can be prosecuted for neglect if they leave their child unsupervised

“in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health”

In these cases, the family are likely to be subject to an investigation by the Local Authority. This could result in the child being removed from the parent’s care.

It is therefore imperative a parent only leaves the child unsupervised if it is safe and reasonable to do so.

 

Ringrose Law has an experienced Children Department. They are able to offer legal advice on if it is advisable to leave your child home alone.

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