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When can you let your children fend for themselves?
25 Oct 2019

With another school holiday underway, a common problem facing many families is childcare.

Working parents in particular often face a daily struggle of juggling holiday clubs, play dates and calling on friends and families to help out.

If you have older children, leaving them to occupy themselves can be an option but at what age can you leave them to look after themselves? Sarah Millington, a Senior Associate with our Family Law team explains:

Surprisingly, there are no specific laws in the UK governing when you are able to leave a child alone at home or in a car unsupervised. However, according to The Children and Young Persons Act 1993 and several other laws, it is a criminal offence if leaving them alone puts them at risk of harm, whether that is through an injury or poor health. 

Children mature at different times so there is no ‘one size fits all solution’. One child may mature young and feel confident enough to be left alone and be happy for hours, whereas another may feel panicked at the prospect of being left for just 10 minutes. When children panic, they can make dangerous decisions such as leaving the house or car to seek help, putting them in an unpredictable situation and possibly into unsafe public places.  

Ultimately, it is down to the personal judgement of the parent or guardian as to what they deem to be appropriate and take adequate action to avoid the risk of any harm. 

The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) has helpful guidelines that state:
If your child is under 12, they should not be left alone for prolonged periods of time. This is because they are rarely mature enough to handle this situation at such a young age. 
Children under 16 can be left at home alone but should not be left by themselves overnight. 
Babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone, even for short periods.

Before making a decision about whether to leave your child alone, there are a few questions you could ask yourself, including how long you will be leaving them, would they know what to do in case of an emergency such as a fire or burglary, and do they have sufficient skills to keep themselves out of danger? 

Houses and cars are full of potentially harmful items, and children can get themselves into all sorts of trouble very quickly so it’s important you consider all of the options.

Of course, nobody else knows your child’s maturity level better than you. It’s safe to say that if you have a baby or young child, you should never even consider leaving them alone. 

If you regularly have to leave your child alone, or you are just not sure about how these rules apply to your situation, always speak to a family lawyer for further advice.

Meet Sarah Millington