Having survived another school holiday, possibly scrambling around to make last minute child care arrangements, and with the Home Alone films no doubt to be shown on TV on the run up to Christmas, many parents may be wondering where they stand in terms of leaving their children at home without adult supervision.
Here at Maguire Family Law our clients often approach us for advice on what they should do in this regard. The question is perhaps more pertinent to couples who have separated as one parent may be fearful of being criticised by the other parent for their choices. We also see the situation arise where one parent wishes to always be given the opportunity to care for the children if the other parent is not able to for whatever reason.
The NSPCC have recently published some guidance on leaving children home alone. Their guidance focuses on whether the child is ready to be left alone. They set out useful topics for discussion for parents and children and a link to this can be found here.
From a legal perspective, there is no specific defined age at which children may be left home alone. However, issues of neglect can arise if leaving a child at home could put them at risk of injury or suffering.
We would always advise separated parents to try to discuss these arrangements between themselves so that there is a clear understanding of what arrangements are being put in place for the children. It is always best to be open and honest. If you take the decision that your child is ready to be left home alone and then this should not be kept a secret from the other parent. Asking children to keep secrets from the other parent can make them feel as if they are torn between both parents. It may also put your child in a difficult position if, for any reason, they needed to make contact with the other parent in an emergency.
Many parents who are together have different views on the age at which their children are ready to be left alone and any differences of opinion will only be highlighted where the couple have separated. What is most important from a legal perspective is that the child themselves feels happy to be left home alone and has the necessary skills and strategies to help them to cope.