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Leaving your child home alone - guidelines
Age limit for leaving kids alone at home
In some cases, leaving a child home alone is classed as neglect. In Scotland, England and Wales there is not an actual legal age limit of when a child can be left home alone. It is imperative that parents of children think very carefully before they leave their son/daughter alone. There are many factors to be taken into account before taking this decision, for example:
- the maturity of the child.
- do they have any medical conditions?
- are they aware of dangers?
- can you trust them 100%?
Although there is no legal age limit, parents can still be prosecuted for neglect if it is found that the child was left alone in an unsafe environment likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) have issued guidelines on the issue of leaving a child alone at home. They advise that a child under the age of 12 years should not be left at home alone for any period of time. They also recommend that children under 16 years of age should not be left by themselves overnight. The NSPCC also issued further guidance stating that children under the age of 16 years should not be left in charge of a baby. Children can appear to be "grown-up" and mature for their age,but stop and ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. Is your child FULLY aware of potential dangers?
2. Can you trust your child to behave responsibly?
3. Could your child cope in an emergency situation?
IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS AT ALL THEN DON'T LEAVE YOUR CHILD AT HOME ALONE.
Tips to help your child spend time home alone safely
If you do feel that your child is old enough to be left for a period of time, they should be given the opportunity to earn your trust. Here are a few tips that can help make the whole experience less of a worry:
- Gradually build up the amount of time the child spends alone. Perhaps start with an hour or two and increase over a period of time to an afternoon or evening.
- Maybe allow them to have a friend over that you trust. This way your child will still be "in charge" but will have some company.
- Lay down some basic rules e.g. not answering the telephone or door while you are out, not ironing, cooking or using straightening irons.
- Explain safety procedures carefully and cover topics such as fires, emergencies etc. (Leave clear instructions of what to do in the event of an emergency arising)
- Leave written contact numbers to enable them to get in touch with you quickly if required.
- Ensure that there are no obvious hazards in the home.
- Check that the smoke alarms are working properly. Batteries should be changed twice a year. I always make a point of changing mine in March and October when the clocks change. I also mark it up in the calendar as a reminder to do so.
- Make it clear to the child the time you will be leaving and when you will return home. (try and stick to these times)
- Ask a neighbour that you can trust to look out for them. Let your child know that they can go to that neighbour if they are worried about anything.
- If while you are out, your child contacts you and is anxious, scared or distressed, ensure that you are able to return home straight away.
- Make sure that your child is clear about everything and is happy with the situation.
IF YOU ARE IN ANY DOUBT - DON'T LEAVE THEM ALONE AT HOME.