Each child has its own rate of growing up and of course its own pace in reaching maturity. Therefore, there cannot be a single, ideal age, common to all children, at which it is safe for a child to be left alone at home. Parents and guardians are the only persons responsible for a child’s safety. If we leave a child alone at home at an “inappropriate” age we are setting it at risk and our conduct may be considered neglectful.
A child at an inappropriate age -not old enough- that does not feel comfortable being left alone, must never be left unattended at home.
According to the experts of NSPCC, the largest non-profit, non-governmental organisation engaged exclusively with the protection and safety of children against any form of abuse:
Independence and its gradual attainment is extremely important for all human beings as they are growing up. All parents will at some point need to leave a child alone at home, because they have to attend an unplanned meeting, shop for something that is urgently needed, address a health issue. They must therefore have a plan in place for when such occasions arise. Growth and maturity differ in each child, and independence must be attained at the child’s own pace. It is also very important to check with the children themselves about whether they feel safe or not.
Infants and Toddlers
Children aged 0 to 3 must NEVER be left unattended. Never. This means that we cannot even leave them alone in the car for a few moments while we jump out to buy something.
Children under 12 yrs.
Since children gain maturity at different times, it is not recommended that they are left unattended at home before they reach their 12th year, and certainly not for long periods of time (e.g. while you go to work when school is closed or they are ill), and they are still too young to be allowed to return alone from school on foot without adult supervision. Of course, the same applies at home. You must always have an adult to supervise them when you are out; indeed, an adult whom you trust absolutely. It is preferable to have them stay at the house of a friend you trust than to leave them at home unattended or with someone who does not enjoy your full confidence.
Children from 12 to 16 yrs.
As children start high school, they demand more independence – such as walking alone to and from school, bringing friends at home when you are out, or travelling on their own. Before you decide to grant them this independence it would be good to talk to them, and keep on talking to them. The fact that they are growing up does not always mean that it is sufficiently safe for them to be left unattended at home. There must be limits and rules which must be clear-cut, of which you must remind them regularly, and which must be observed at all times without exception.
Remember: You must never leave a child alone at home if the child does not wish it or does not feel ready yet. In some instances, if it is absolutely necessary for you to go out the best solution is to find someone to stay with the child.
Leaving the child in the care of an older brother/sister
If your child has an older sibling, even a step-brother or step-sister, you may feel comfortable leaving it in their care. However, if the babysitting brother or sister is under 16, then you are again responsible for the safety of both! So be careful. The choice of the person who will stay with your child when you are not present is a difficult decision which must be made knowingly and on the strength of previous experience. Do not hesitate to ask for letters of reference for every person to whom you will entrust your child.