Schools holidays often bring with them the contentious dilemma for parents about deciding when it’s OK to leave their children home alone.
In Australia, Queensland is the only state that specifies that a child must not be left alone if they are under the age of 12. The Federal law states that it’s the parent’s responsibility – and legal obligation – to ensure their children are safe and properly looked after. The advice from a government agency is that while ‘the law provides no clear direction as to what age a child can be left at home alone, as a parent you need to use your own judgement based on your own family circumstances and the age and maturity of your children.’
The Australian Raising Children Network provides some guidance for parents who are considering leaving their child without supervision at home. Evaluating their maturity, confidence and level of independence of each child is key.
These questions can be used to determine their readiness:
- Does my child usually make sensible decisions?
- Can my child stay alone for a while without being frightened?
- Would my child be able to cope in an emergency, such as a fire or a break-in?
- Does my child know how to use the telephone?
- How safe is our home and neighbourhood?
- Does my child know important information such as phone numbers?
- Can my child follow the house rules, whether I’m there or not?
- Does my child feel confident about being left alone?
- How long will I be away?
- How often would my child be at home alone?
But don’t forget, it is still important to set clear rules about the things your child can do as well as those they can’t when they are home alone. These rules may vary from those that apply when you’re home and may include when or when not to answer the door or the phone, preparing a meal and using electrical appliances.
- Does your child know where you are and how to contact you at all times?
- Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults and know when to call 000 or a neighbour in case of emergency?
- Does your family have a safety plan for emergencies?
- Can your child follow this plan?
- Do you have a special family password or code to use if they call you and need help?
The Raising Children Network provides a checklist of things to think about and discuss as a family before leaving children at home alone.