Charity issues warning over children being left home alone
Is there a 'right' age to leave children home alone?
UK children's charity, the NSPCC, has advised parents to think carefully about leaving children home alone.
The organisation says they have seen an increase in calls to their 24-hour helpline from members of the public who are concerned about children being left at home by themselves. Worried callers have reported children being left alone overnight and young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment, according to specialist counsellors.
Although Irish law does not dictate a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents have a legal responsibility to "act reasonably in relation to their children" and can be prosecuted for neglect if children are put at risk.
The NSPCC has warned that although a child may seem mature or responsible enough to be left alone without adult supervision, parents should consider if their child would be able to cope with unexpected situations such as an emergency or a stranger calling.
The charity's CEO, Peter Wanless, says the school holidays means parents face increasing childcare difficulties:
"Deciding if a child is ready to be left on their own can be a very difficult decision and the summer holidays can be a difficult time for parents and carers as they face increasing childcare pressures.
Although there is no minimum age, no child should be left on their own if there is any risk they will come to harm. Children mature at their own rate so it’s really important parents think carefully about what is right for their child.
Children shouldn’t be left on their own if they are not happy with being left, or if they don’t know what to do in an emergency."
The NSPCC has issued some guidance for parents and carers on the issue:
- Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.
- Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time.
- Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.
- Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone.
- A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with it, regardless of their age.
- If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling.
- When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?