Sunday, 13 April 2008

UK law on minimum age for leaving children alone

Home Alone UK.

I notice that a few people have arrived at this blog from using Google search engine to find the minimum age at which children can be left alone, legally, in the UK.

Here is what the NSPCC says on the subject:

NSPCC Help and Advice Pages

"Leaving children at home alone

What the law says

The law does not set a minimum age at which children can be left alone. However, it is an offence to leave a child alone when doing so puts him or her at risk.

How do you decide if you can safely leave a child alone?

There are many important things to consider before you decide to leave a child alone. These include:

  • the age of the child
  • the child's level of maturity and understanding
  • the place where child will be left
  • how long the child will be left alone, and how often
  • whether or not there are any other children alone with the child."
And from Professor Carolyn Hamilton, Times Online:

Times Online

"Scenario 1: You have three children under 5. You go shopping at the supermarket for 20 minutes, leaving them asleep in their car seats with the doors unlocked to avoid their movements triggering the car alarm.

This scenario is not advisable. It is an offence under section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to neglect or abandon a child under the age of 16 for whom a parent or carer has responsibility, but the law gives no detail of what amounts to neglect or abandonment. Prosecution and/or conviction depend largely on the circumstances. The punishment can range from a fine to ten years’ imprisonment.

The court is to likely to take into account the age and maturity of the child, for how long he or she was left alone and the arrangements to ensure his or her safety. Here, the children might get out of the car and wander on to the road – or anybody could remove a child from the car."

"Scenario 4:You go out for dinner in a hotel complex on holiday abroad, leaving a child aged 3 and twins aged 18 months in a locked room. You return to check on them every half hour.

If the parents have taken all the risks into account and decided that it is safe to leave the children, this would probably be reasonable. If the children were awake or a bit older and able to wander around, or potentially even to open the door to an intruder, perhaps not. But asleep, with the door locked and people constantly checking up on them, it is likely to be reasonable.

You should be checking on them very regularly. I don’t think it’s any less safe in Continental Europe than it is here. Leaving children alone in this manner is not desirable, but parents have to balance the demands of life and will probably have to consider such issues regularly.

A parent needs to ensure that children are safe if they are left alone. Leaving them for a short while, asleep, in a locked room with regular checks is acceptable. Leaving them for two hours, or with unlocked doors, is not."

So, in effect, the answer is that there is no minimum age set by UK law for when children can be left alone. However, if the children should come to significant harm as a result, those responsible are likely to be prosecuted.


Unknown said...

The 4th scenario fits the McCann case. I am under the impression that an 18 month old is classified an an "infant". Isn't it so?
Considering that Madeleine had a genetic disorder wasn't it more risky to leave the child alone?
Taking into account the fact that she woke up and cried the night before as Mrs. Fenn had also stated wasn't it extremely thoughtless, that she was left alone again?

AnnaEsse said...


I teach Health and Social Care at GCSE and A level and the official definitions are:

0-3: Infancy
3-11: Childhood
11-18: Adolescence
18+ adulthood

Also, I do seem to recall in one of the first reports I read on the BBC's web site, that one of the relatives said that Madeleine had a habit of sleep-walking. So, it seems to be rather irresponsible to leave her with her twin siblings in an unlocked apartment, in a strange place.