A frequently asked question by many parents is when is it OK to start leaving children home alone?

Mum asks: “With school holidays coming up, I’m thinking of leaving my 10 year old at home while I do a half-day of work in the office.

“Still unsure though if he’s too young. How old were your kids when you left them home alone?”

Many of our mums agreed it really does come down to each individual child and how trust worthy and independant you think they are. While others said it is not something they would consider until their child was 13 and over.

– “Comes down to the child and how far away help is.”

– “Every child is different my oldest is 10 but isn’t capable of being alone on the other hand my 8 yr old is more then capable of being on her own and can cook herself a meal.”

– “My 11 year old is allowed to stay home for 2 hours alone- with strict instructions to not answer the door, not cook anything, and if someone tried to come inside to go straight out the back door with our giant scary looking dogs.

I’d probably trust my 9 year old to do the same next year.

I think it depends on a couple of things- what will they be doing while your gone (mine wouldn’t even notice I was gone-she would just be on her iPad the whole time), how far away are you, can you answer the phone instantly if they call (not in meetings etc) and can you leave if necessary, and be there quickly.

They have to be given some sort of independence to learn responsibility- if not in their own house, then where??”

– ” It truly depends on the maturity level and capabilities of the child. I started leaving my now 14yr old son alone from 11-12 as he is very mature and able to cook and has his own phone etc for emergencies.”

– “I think 10 is too young. Also as said by another, it is illegal and the cops are cracking down on this issue. If anything happens you will never forgive yourself.”

– “I didn’t let my child he home alone til 13 years old. I did have neighbour check on him too. My daughter is 12 don’t leave her home alone yet waiting till she is 13 . ”

– “Check state regulations. We don’t even leave 13 alone for more than 45mins.”

– “I started this year with my 11 yr old now 12. But only a couple of hours. I wouldn’t have done earlier.”

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.

I did this recently with my ten year old son and when I came back home he said, “well that wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be!” I don’t think he is in a rush to do it again anytime soon after nagging for ages!

Some key advice before leaving them:

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.

The law

There is actually no legal age for leaving children home alone.

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 misdemeanour. 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. Read about the laws in each state and territory.

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

This involves thinking about whether your child will cope if you weren’t able to get back, or if something happened. For example, leaving a baby or toddler asleep while you pop out to collect older children from school poses a significant risk.


Related story – Is it a crime? What the law says about leaving your child in the car


 

Australian Capital Territory
In the Australian Capital Territory, there is no specific law that states at what age you can leave children alone. But the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children:

Parents are expected to provide their children with food, clothing, a place to live, safety and supervision. (Family Law Act 1975)
Parents can be charged with an offence if children are left in a dangerous situation and are not fed, clothed or provided with accommodation. (Crimes Act 1900)

Care and Protection (part of the ACT Office for Children, Youth and Family Support) can remove children from situations where their immediate safety is in serious danger and there is no responsible adult or guardian present. (Children and Young People Act 2008)

When a person under the age of 18 years – for example, an older brother, sister or teenage friend – cares for children, the question of negligence or liability could arise. As a parent you might be held responsible for the carer, as well as your own children, if something goes wrong. A carer who is still legally a child – that is, under 18 years – would not be judged against the standards of responsibility expected of adults.

New South Wales

There is no specific law that states at what age you can leave children alone. But the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children:

Parents are expected to provide food, clothing, a place to live, safety and supervision. (Family Law Act 1975)

NSW Police or the NSW Department of Family and Community Services can remove children from situations where their safety is in serious danger and there is no guardian present. (Children and Young Persons (Care & Protection) Act 1998)

Parents can be charged with an offence if children are left in a dangerous situation, or are not fed, clothed or provided with accommodation. (Children and Young Persons (Care & Protection) Act 1998)

When a person under the age of 18 years – for example, an older brother, sister or teenage friend – cares for children, the question of negligence or liability could arise. As a parent, you might be held responsible for the carer as well as your own children if something goes wrong. A person who is still legally a child – that is, under 18 years – would not be judged against the standards of responsibility expected of adults.

Northern Territory

There is no specific law that states at what age you can leave children alone. But the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children:

Parents or carers of children under 16 years can be found criminally liable if they’re reckless or negligent in providing children with the necessities of life, where death or injury is likely or foreseeable. (Criminal Code Act)

The Police or the Department of Children and Families can remove children from situations where their safety is in serious danger and there is no guardian present. (Care and Protection of Children Act)

When a person under the age of 18 years – for example, an older brother, sister or teenage friend – cares for children, the question of negligence or liability could arise. As a parent you might be held responsible for the carer, as well as for your own children, if something goes wrong. A carer who is still legally a child – that is, under 18 years – would not be judged against the standards of responsibility expected of adults.

Queensland

The Criminal Code (Section 364A) states:
A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum penalty is three years imprisonment.

Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

South Australia

There is no specific law that states at what age you can leave children alone. But the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children:

Parents are expected to provide food, clothing, a place to live, safety and supervision. (Family Law Act)
Parents can be charged with an offence if children are left in a dangerous situation and are not fed, clothed or provided with somewhere to live. (Criminal Law Consolidation Act)

The Police or Families SA (part of the South Australian Department of Families and Communities) can remove children from situations where their safety is in serious danger and there is no guardian present. (Children’s Protection Act)

When a person under the age of 18 years – for example, an older brother, sister or teenage friend – cares for children, the question of negligence or liability could arise. As a parent you might be held responsible for the carer, as well as your own children, if something goes wrong. A carer who is still legally a child – that is, under 18 years – would not be judged against the standards of responsibility expected of adults.

Tasmania

The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1997 states the following:
A person who has the control or charge of a child must not leave the child without making reasonable provision for the child’s supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable.

The penalty is a fine not exceeding 15 penalty units or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both.

Victoria

Although Victorian law does not specify an exact age, there are provisions in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 about parental responsibility to a child and the expectation that parents make ‘reasonable’ decisions about a child’s safety.The Acts says:

It is an offence to leave a child without reasonable provision for their supervision and care.
The context has to be considered, including the age and maturity of the child.

As a parent, you are legally obligated to ensure that children are properly looked after. This means that food and clothing are provided, and that children have a safe place to live and are under parental supervision. When there is an older sibling who is under the age of 18 years caring for other children in the house, you are still held responsible for the safety of the children.

Western Australia

There is no specific law that states at what age you can leave children alone, but the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children:

Parents are expected to provide food, clothing, a place to live, safety and supervision. (Family Law Act 1975; Family Court Act (WA) 1997)
Parents can be charged with an offence if they neglect their child and do not provide the necessities of life for their child under 16 years. (Criminal Code 1913)

Parents can be charged for failing to protect their child from significant harm as a result of abuse or neglect. (Children and Community Services Act 2004)

The Western Australia Police or the Department for Child Protection can take a child into provisional protection and care if they suspect there is an immediate and substantial risk to the child’s wellbeing. (Children and Community Services Act 2004)

The Western Australia Police or a Departmental Child Protection Worker can move a child to a safe place if the child is unaccompanied by a responsible adult and there is a risk to the child’s wellbeing. (Children and Community Services Act 2004)

Parents can be charged with an offence if they leave a child unsupervised in a motor vehicle or the child is likely to become emotionally distressed or their health might be impaired. (Children and Community Services Act 2004)

When a person under the age of 18 years – for example, an older brother, sister or teenage friend – cares for  children, the question of negligence or liability could arise. As a parent you might be held responsible for the carer, as well as your own children, if something goes wrong. A carer who is still legally a child – that is, under 18 years – would not be judged against the standards of responsibility expected of adults.

It is up to you to decide if your child is safe and if your trip out is worth a possible criminal charge.

Share your comments below.

Read more:


  • ahhh didnt know that..always thought there was a legal rule for it.

    Reply


  • Depends on the specific child but it’s also something you want to ease into with smaller periods of time first.

    Reply


  • Depends on maturity.
    My eldest 2 are 14 and 13yrs old and both do not like to stay home alone. When they are together and I have a GP appointment with my younger ones, they’re happy for me to go for a maximum of a hour or so.

    Reply


  • It really depends on your situation and the maturity of the children involved. Mum’s need to make their own call


    • I agree with you here. All kids are so different it depends on the situation

    Reply


  • Agree depends on each child and how they are

    Reply


  • It all depends on the individual child, I think if the are responsible enough a few hrs from age 12 I think is okay

    Reply


  • I think I’ll worry no matter what age haha. Was very stressful when my ex started letting our two kids stay home alone younger than I wanted. But I had no say, he is controlling. Glad I decide with my youngest! She’s way too young.

    Reply


  • Are you going to tell others your child will be home alone and ask if it is OK for him/her to call them in an emergency? In SA questions will by asked by DOCS if your child is injured and taken to hospital without a parent / legal guardian

    Reply


  • We started with small amounts of time while I popped out to the supermarket. No cooking, using appliances etc. They just play on their ipads for the 30 minutes I’m gone.

    Reply


  • I think I’d be hesitant before twelve or thirteen, no matter how responsible the child.

    Reply


  • My son was 10. It was a gradual thing though. To start with, I would send him off home on his pushbike half an hour before I was finishing work, so he wasn’t home alone for long and home wasn’t too far from my work. That time gradually increased as he showed being more capable and competent at being home alone. It was still stressful, but they need to learn independence. It all depends on your child’s maturity levels and if they want to be home alone

    Reply


  • I never left my boys alone. I used to feel guilty if I had to go somewhere and couldn’t take them with me. Either my Mum or my next door neighbour would always offer to help out at crucial times. I’d hope that all parents would use their own initiative to do what is best for their children to keep them safe at all times

    Reply


  • It is something that parents need to have a hard long think about.

    Reply


  • Can remember baby sitting my parent’s friends children when I was about 12 so they could go out for a few hours.

    Reply


  • I think there should be a mininum age where a child is left home to care for younger ones – including a 1 – 3 y.o. toddler

    Reply

Post a comment
Like Facebook page

LIKE MoM on Facebook

Please enter your comment below
Would you like to include a photo?

No picture uploaded yet
Please wait to see your image preview here before hitting the submit button.

Your MoM account

Lost your password?

Enter your email and a password below to post your comment and join MoM:

Loading articles…
↥ Back to top

Thanks For Your Star Rating!

Would you like to add a written rating or just submit?

Write A Rating Just Submit
Join