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Experts say it should be ILLEGAL to leave kids under 12 home alone

Children should be at least twelve years old before they are left home alone for four hours or longer experts agree. While half believed leaving a child under 10 home alone for four hours was neglect.

Experts say it should be ILLEGAL to leave kids under 12 home alone

Scientists asked for the opinions of 500 workers in the US and found half agreed it should be illegal for a 12-year-old to be on their own for long periods.

Researchers called for laws to specify the age at which a child should be left home alone in order to clarify boundaries.

The University of Iowa team said it would help social workers spot cases of neglect and protect children from potential harm.

A total of 485 members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) were quizzed by Dr Charles Jennissen and his team.

Researchers asked for their opinions on a scenario in which a child was left home alone for four hours.

The scenarios varied by the age of the child, whether they had been injured or not, and if relevant ‘home alone’ laws existed.

Nearly every social worker said leaving a child who was six or younger home alone for four hours was neglect.

Around half of the respondents said it was neglect to leave a 10-year-old or younger to be home alone.

Asked what age should it be illegal to leave a child alone for four hours, half agreed the law should apply to children aged 12 or younger.

Eighty per cent agreed it should be illegal for children under 10 years, and 94 per cent said under eight years.

Australia law

There’s no particular law in Australia that says at what age you can or can’t leave your child home alone. It is very much decided in each state depending on the circumstances.

In Queensland, if you leave a child under 12 years of age for an ‘unreasonable time’ without supervision you have committed a misdemeanor. However, the legislation also says that whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

Elsewhere in Australia, the law says you’re legally obliged to make sure that your child is properly looked after. You’re expected to provide food, clothing, a place to live, safety and supervision. You can be charged with an offence if your child is left in a dangerous situation, not fed, clothed or provided with accommodation.

The police or Children, Youth and Family Services can remove children from situations where their safety is in serious danger and where there’s no guardian present.

It is important to use your own judgment about leaving children home alone.

Some tips before leaving your child home alone

Start slowly

A good thing to do if kids haven’t been left at home alone before, is to start by leaving them for just 20 minutes whilst you visit the supermarket, to see how they feel. If there are no concerns, they can then gradually extend their absence for longer. Soon they’ll be comfortable by themselves until mum or dad return home.

Make sure you leave them in a safe environment:

Make sure that kids know how to open and close all the locks and windows in the home and how to use the keys. While they may be old enough to know about general hazards in the home, it’s still a good idea to explain the dangers of everyday activities that can lead to a household accident, such as leaving cooking unattended or drying clothes too close to a heater.

Set some strict rules!
Set some ground rules around what they can and can’t touch, use or do.

For example, instructing them not to answer the phone or the door when there are no adults home. It may also be a good idea to minimise the use of appliances or sharp cooking utensils, especially if kids are still in their early teens.

Prepare them for an emergency
If children know how everything works and what not to touch, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about.

However, make sure that they know exactly what to do in the case of an emergency. Write down all emergency contacts and numbers, including 000, and make sure they know who to call for different circumstances. For example, asking a neighbour for assistance if they can’t find the family pet, rather than calling the police.

Also ensure there is a first aid kit at home and that children know where it is and how to use the basics properly.

Main image via unsplash


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written by:

Tracy Hardy

Tracy has been a digital content producer for the past 9 years. Mum of two boys, slowly finding her way through the tween and teen years at the same time. Beach lover. Terrible housekeeper. Tea drinker. Wine sipper, who sadly can't eat cheese or ice cream. Life is cruel!