Figures obtained by the BBC show that in the last financial year Police arrested 510 people when they deemed a child might be at risk having been left alone. The actual number could be much higher as only 28 of the 43 Police Forces in England and Wales responded to the request. So what does the law say about leaving children home alone?
There are no set ages when you can leave a child on their own, but it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk. It is for each parent to use their judgement on how mature their child is before they decide to leave them alone.
The National Society for Potential Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) says:
· Children under 12 are rarely mature enough to left alone for a long period of time.
· Children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight.
· Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.
Parents be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering to injury to health’.
Some argue that it would help parents if there were fixed ages setting out when children could be left alone. Others say that such decisions depend on all the circumstances such as the length of time the child is alone, the situation they are in. their maturity and understanding and whether they have any special needs and it is simply not possible to impose rules that would cover all eventualities. While rules may give clarity we would run the risk of criminalising behaviour which the majority of people would think was fine: should you really face criminal prosecution for leaving your 13 year old for 5 minutes while you popped to the corner shop to buy a bottle of milk? So my view is it is really is for parents to use their common sense to make a judgement call based on their knowledge of their child and the situation they find themselves in.
Elspeth Thomson is a children law specialist at David Gray Solicitors LLP and was invited to speak about this on Radio London and Radio 3 Counties on behalf of Resolution on 14th March 2016. You can listen again here at 1 hr 6 minutes in.