As a father of two children aged 5 (boy) and 1 (girl), there have been occasions when I’ve considered leaving them alone under lock and key while I sprint to the nearby corner shop to grab a depleted essential.
I’m proud to say I’ve never done it, even though doing so would – for the sake of a two-minute trip – avoid:
- Prying them from Sarah & Duck as they protest bitterly
- Chasing them through the house threatening them with hell and high water if they don’t “get their coats on now”
- Trying to strap the girl into the pushchair as she does her finest screaming surfboard impression
The guilt of what might happen if I leave them to their own devices far outweighs the benefits, but where do parents and guardians stand when it comes to the law? Are we allowed to leave our kids home alone, and if so for how long?
It might surprise you to discover that there are no laws outlining leaving children at home. You need to ensure they won’t be ‘at risk’, but that’s about it. Given the vastness of rates at which children develop, it would be almost impossible to create a single law covering all eventualities. Instead it is at parents’ discretion and with a trust in common sense that they make the final decision.
That’s not to say you can’t get into trouble. If it was proven that you had put them at risk by leaving them alone you could be looking at prosecution. Arguably all children are at risk if left alone – especially toddlers, who let’s be honest are pretty much a full-time danger to themselves – but without set laws in place you’re best bet is not taking any risks.
The NSPCC have a fantastic pool of information on their website, including things to consider before leaving a child home alone, and choosing a babysitter.
As for doing my part, I’ve just used the last of the wet wipes to remove Nutella (at least I hope it is) from the stair carpet. Time to take a deep breath and reach for the coats.