Whether to leave a child home alone is a dilemma faced by many parents who can’t afford expensive after-school childcare. Find out what you need to know to make sure it’s legal, and to keep your kids happy and safe.
The label ‘latchkey kids’ may be a negative one, but providing children are old enough, allowing them to let themselves in after school and take care of themselves for a couple of hours can be successful.
Find out what you need to know to make sure it’s legal, and to keep your kids happy and safe.
What’s the law?
There’s no legal age limit for leaving your child on their own, but it’s an offence to do so if it places them at risk. You can be prosecuted for neglect if you leave a child unsupervised “in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health”. Failure to meet your child’s basic needs, such as food and warmth, or constantly leaving your child alone, may be considered neglect.
Consider how mature your child is before leaving him or her home alone. Under-12s vary enormously – would your son or daughter know how to cope or who to phone in an emergency? Whatever the case, don’t leave them home for long.
Even when leaving teenagers by themselves, talk to them and make sure they are happy about the arrangements and that they know how to contact you and the emergency services if they need to.
Never leave babies or young children home alone, even if they are sleeping.
Home alone checklist
- Check if your child might be able to join an after-school club for an hour or two instead. Some schools offer homework clubs or after-school sports activities supervised by adults.
- Talk to your children about how they feel about being left home alone. Make sure they feel happy about it and that they know where you are and what to do in an emergency.
- Teach your children self-care skills, such as not to answer the door to strangers or to let callers know they’re home alone.
- Buy filtering software for children or download child protection software free from the internet to make sure your children are surfing safely in your absence.
- Get the children to phone or text you when they arrive home.
- Lay down ground rules. Does homework have to come before TV, and what snacks are off limits?
- Keep a list of emergency contact numbers on the fridge door – including your number, that of a trusted neighbour, a relative or family friend.
- Try to find another parent or neighbour you trust in your area to keep an eye on them.
- Ever leave your baby alone in the house, not even for a few minutes. What if you were delayed or your baby was sick?
- Leave young children home alone at night, even if they are asleep. They may soon wake up and come looking for you.
- Leave children under 16 alone overnight.
- Leave children between nine and 12 home alone for a long time and certainly not every day.
- Allow your children to invite friends over in your absence, as this is often when accidents happen. If ever,
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- Allow them to go out – once they are home they should stay home.
- Expect under-14s to care for young siblings.
- Give them too many chores. Most children like to unwind after school and they’ll struggle to motivate themselves if you’re not there.