What is the legal age to leave a child at home alone? None, actually. There aren’t even age limits for when children can be left unattended in most states. But, if you’re asking “what age can a child stay home alone?” instead, the answer gets a little more complicated.
Read on to find out what child protection laws are actually about and when it’s appropriate to leave a child unsupervised.
What Age Can Kids Stay Home Alone?
If your kids are over the age of 18, you can legally leave them unsupervised without worry. After all, in the eyes of the law, they’re fully-fledged adults. They can even take care of their younger siblings if the situation calls for it.
The situation only starts getting iffy when you need to leave your underaged kids at home alone.
What Does The Law Say?
Like we said earlier, the law in most states don’t specify an age limit. In fact, they don’t even say anything about leaving a child at home alone. Instead, these child protection laws are more general and focus on a child’s safety and well-being.
These laws are more about the parent’s or legal guardian’s responsibilities. For example, the federal Family Law Act states that parents or guardians should keep children safe and supervised while also providing them with food, clothing, and shelter. Most states follow similar laws.
Some states and territories make their laws a little more specific. In the Northern Territory, parents can be held criminally liable if they’re reckless or negligent with children under 16. Queensland is even stricter as their Criminal Code Act punishes parents who leave children under 12 alone for an unreasonable amount of time.
Other state laws focus more on the child’s situation instead of the child’s age. Most notably, Western Australia’s Children and Community Services Act considers leaving a child in a motor vehicle an offence.
With all that said, child protection laws leave a lot of room for interpretation. Queensland’s Criminal Code even states that “whether the time [that the child is left alone] is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances”. Every case is going to be different, and factors like the child’s maturity level and the surrounding area’s safety need to be taken into account.
If you’re asking “at what age can a child be left home alone with a babysitter”, you’ll just get the same answer as before. Not only is there no minimum age limit for leaving a child with a babysitter but there’s also no minimum age limit for the babysitters themselves! But, if anything happens to the children while they’re under the care of underage babysitters, the parents or guardians of both the children and the babysitter are liable for whatever that happens.
How Do Australian Laws Compare?
For the most part, Australian child protection laws are similar to the laws in other countries. In the UK, the law is also very general and heavily dependent on context. The US also has similar laws, though three of its states do have minimum age requirements for leaving a child at home alone.
What Do Child Services Say?
While the law doesn’t give a lot of specifics, many government agencies provide helpful guidelines.
In NSW, parents are given specific instructions for children of different ages. For example, preschoolers can only be left alone for five to fifteen minutes while children between 10 and 12 can be left alone for 12 hours.
Agencies from other countries give similar guidelines. The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children advises that most children below 12 aren’t mature enough to be left alone and children under 16 can’t be left alone overnight. Guidelines from American agencies take it a step further as these also mention which parts of the day children can be safely left alone.
Are There Any Consequences?
For parents, penalties can range from a hefty fine to a three-year prison sentence. Parents can also lose custody of their children if it means the kids will be safer without them.
For children, the consequences can be a lot more dire. At worst, they can die, and even if it doesn’t get to that point, they can still be harmed in other ways. If it’s the child’s first time to be left alone, chances are they’ll experience a lot of stress, fear, and anxiety. If it happens a lot, it could affect their grades and even their growth and development.
That said, being left alone at home isn’t always a bad thing. For one, it can help them learn to be more independent, provided they’re mature enough to handle it. If you give them some simple chores to do alone, they could even start developing a sense of responsibility.
You Have The Final Say
With this issue, “what age can you leave a child at home alone” is a question that only you can answer as their parent. If you think your child is mature enough and your home has everything your child needs while you’re out, it would be legally fine to leave them at home alone.