Parents are running the risk of being prosecuted for leaving their children home alone without adult supervision, a leading Lancashire lawyer has warned.
According to Louise Daniel, associate solicitor at Woodcocks Haworth and Nuttall, many working parents may consider leaving their children unattended during school holidays due to childcare costs and a lack of local family support. But leaving their children home alone, even for a short time, can result in prosecution.
There is no legal guidance on what age a parent can leave a child on their own, yet parents in England and Wales can be prosecuted for wilful neglect if a child is left unattended under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. This is under the notion that leaving a child could cause suffering or injury to health. Those found guilty could face anything from a caution up to ten years in prison.
Louise commented: “Parents can’t always get time off during school holidays and if they can’t afford childcare every day, or have a relative or friend who can babysit, sometimes they feel they have no choice but to leave their child home alone.
“Dangers such as injury to a child of any age are higher when there isn’t an adult present. Regardless of the moral position, most parents don’t realise that they run the risk of being prosecuted.”
The National Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has issued guidance on the age at which children can be trusted on their own and for how long. It suggests children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for long periods and young children should never be left unattended. However it must be understood that every child is different and this is where potential difficulties with legislation lie.
A YouGov study highlighted the widespread confusion on leaving children unattended prompting many to call for a change in the law. In the poll the youngest age at which most parents felt comfortable leaving a child at home for an hour was 12 with 61 per cent saying that this would be generally safe.
It’s not just working parents that could find themselves in hot water. A mother is currently fighting for the removal of a police caution she was given eight years ago after leaving her six-year-old son home alone for just 45 minutes.
Louise added: “There does need to be better legal guidance. If the NSPCC or any other agency can provide expert guidance, this would assist to remove grey areas and uncertainty and protect children and ideally any clarification through legislation would be of great assistance.”
In a recent case covered by the national press, a mother who left her 12-year-old son in the care of a family friend when she went on a trip to Spain was accused of child neglect and cruelty. The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was eventually cleared by a Crown Court judge but said the episode had torn her family apart and left her battling depression.
For more information about the rules surrounding family law contact Louise Daniel on 01706 225621 or email@example.com