Should there be a legal age limit for leaving a child home alone?

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If there was a one-size-fits-all guide to parenting we would all have been perfect and known what to do.

As the summer holidays are now in full swing, working parents are faced with the challenge of finding extra child care, and the same old question that doesn’t have a specific answer is ‘When is it OK to leave a child home alone without an adult?’. There is no set age for leaving a child alone, but the law states there should be no risk of harm to the child.  It depends on how mature and adaptable the child is – this can vary greatly between children. This is very ambiguous and can be open to interpretation.

The NSPCC have expressed their concerns, and warn that children as young as one are being left home alone during the summer holidays. The charity said many children were at risk of harm during the “peak season” for being left alone, and urged parents to think before they went out.

The NSPCC offer some advice for parents and carers deciding if their child is ready to be left alone:

  • Never leave a baby or young child alone, not even for a few minutes—whether they’re sleeping or awake. Most accidents happen at home, and children under the age of five are most at risk of getting hurt.
  • Even a child approaching 12 may not be mature enough to cope with an emergency. If they need to be left, parents and carers should make sure it’s only for a short time.
  • If leaving an older child alone, make sure they’re happy about the arrangement and know when and how to contact a trusted adult and the emergency services.
  • Children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight.

But is this enough?  Should there be a law for a minimum age to leave a child, or is it acceptable that each individual makes their own judgement?


Do you think there should be a legal age limit for leaving a child home alone?

641 people have already voted, what's your opinion? Yes No

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9th Sep 2015
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it isnt just about how responsible they are for their age it is about how stressed they might feel inside being left in charge of the house and themselves for long periods
4th Sep 2015
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I used to handcuff mine to their beds while I nipped out to the pub for a few hours. One year i went to Benidorm with Big Bernard the coal man, i couldn't take the sprogs as well so I taught them to open tins of beans and spaghetti, showed them how to take bread out of the freezer and use the toaster.
Two weeks later, when I returned they had repainted the entire house, mowed the lawn, washed the car and had baked me a cake.
Not bad for 10 year old twins!
6th Aug 2015
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I find that it beggars belief in this Nanny state age where paedophiles lurk round every corner that we don't have a lower age limit for leaving a child to it's own devices. In my book that's 14 and parents should be fined and threatened with the child being taken into care if they infringe. Sort of 3 strikes and you're out style.
As well as the danger to the child, children can often be a nuisance to neighbours if they are not controlled by a parent (and sometimes if they are controlled by a parent!).
I don't much care about the excuse that parents have to pay for extra child care during holidays. If this is a problem don't have children! Like animals they need to be looked after - I kind of thought that was the point of having them. Have I missed something?
31st Jul 2015
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Although I voted 'YES' I did so with the thought that not all children of the same age are as capable of being left alone. One 12 year old may be far more mature than another. Equally, families differ widely in the way they rear their offspring.
I've always maintained that you only need 3 friends to take it in turns to look after all of the children - even for sleepovers - and employ a babysitter occasionally. In that way each gets to go out once in every 3 weeks.
This is great for shopping days too.
31st Jul 2015
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I was often left alone or in charge of my younger sister. No-one thought anything wrong. If only they knew! Having a legal age limit is a wonderful idea.
30th Jul 2015
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If as a lot of people seem to suggest a limit of say 15 was to be enforced, what about all the children who travel to school by public transport every day?
One can see them on buses, trams, trains and the underground. If they are thought responsible enough to get themselves from A to B safely from at least age 11 surely they can be left for a few hours.
Jo Kingham
27th Jul 2015
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I don't think you can set an actual age. I have a son and a daughter and the maturity levels vary massively. I think every parent has to make a choice based on their knowledge of their child.
sue cutts
27th Jul 2015
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I think the age for leaving children alone should be 15 a least. But at this age not to be responsible for looking after younger siblings
26th Jul 2015
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Each child is an individual with different levels of understanding and responsibility. The ultimate responsibility lies with the parents however I do feel there should be an age whereby it is illegal to leave a child on their own
26th Jul 2015
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I agree with the NSPCC, young children should never be left alone even for a few minutes,in fact you cant take your eyes off them! At an older age it becomes more difficult. Some children of twelve or thirteen can be very grown up and sensible, while others remain very childish and irresponsible. To set an age where children are safe to be left is opening a can of worms!
26th Jul 2015
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Yes I think there should be, but I think so much depends on the child, if it were legal then all parents would use this as a guide line, some children as young as 10 should not be left at home alone.
26th Jul 2015
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I thought 14 was already law. Like so many "age" laws you have to chose a line and there are always going to be people that fall either side ! I think 18 for looking after a young child and 14 for staying home alone for a few hours but the operative word is "alone" not with a gang of friends.!
26th Jul 2015
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In my opinion this is a very grey area. It depends on the child and how responsible they are, no child under the age of 12 should be left alone, also leaving a child under 6 with a teenager under 18 is not good either. The responsibility lies with the parents, they had the child.
26th Jul 2015
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My heart says that parents and guardians should be able to make a judgement based on their knowledge of the child's abilities and an assessment of the risks within the home and the local environment. But my head says that some people are unable to make this judgements and therefore society requires parameters which hopefully all will abide by. Of course, this will not be the case if a rule is set, children would still be left inappropriately, but society can relax in the knowledge that a well defined rule has been broken.
26th Jul 2015
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If rules or laws are going to work there should be no grey areas no one rule for some another rule for others. More help must be provide for working parents to help with cost of child care in holidays, give no excuses for parents to get round laws
25th Jul 2015
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Although a legal limit might help by making the issue clear, yet children vary very much in how quickly they develop responsibility, and understand what to do if a difficulty arises. My own eldest was very sensible from an early age, but her sister was a real scatterbrain.
25th Jul 2015
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i am looking for clare brennan she went pligrims way
25th Jul 2015
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When I was young my mum left me with my younger siblings all the time.but we.were more mature than the kid's today and we had to grow up quick in those days so I agree there should be an age where they can safely be left alone,16 for the majority is fine but some will still not have the sense to be on their own Or able to look after young ones
24th Jul 2015
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I think Kids should be aged about 14 to be left alone and 16 when its overnight. They all have phones nowdays anyway but its always best to be careful. To be fair when I was a nipper we used to look after ourselves aged about 12 as my parents both worked and we just got one with it. We used to let ourselves into the house make a sandwich and in the summer go out and play and in the winter just watch TV or do homework etc.
26th Jul 2015
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I agree Wilf, but think we live in a different world now. We probably experienced more community spirit, everyone knew everyone else and looked out for each other and things appeared safer. Parents should be given more help in trying to tackle problems of child care, it is usually the most vulnerable (child and adult) that experiences the most problems. I'm not sure if setting a legal limit would solve problems although it may give some guidance.

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