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What age can you leave your children home alone?

whatagecanyouleaveyourchildrenaloneLast night, my husband and I both had clashing engagements – not fun ones, but committee meetings and school meetings.

Were our children old enough for us to leave them alone – they’re 13, 11, and 9? Or would we need to get a babysitter for the one hour that we would both be out?

This morning I woke up to a furore at an American lady who was leaving her 7-year-old home alone whilst she went for a jog. And last week, there was news that the Victorian Government were bringing in a law that parents could be charged for leaving any child under the age of 16 home alone! What?

So it’s OK to get the bus alone with all sorts of strangers, but they can’t be left in the safety of their own home? Or can they not catch the bus alone at all? Does that mean that no one can use 15-year-olds as babysitters anymore?

So I decided to investigate what the laws of Australia actually state regarding the age that you can leave your children at home alone.

Below are the current laws, not including any new proposed laws that aren’t in effect yet.

  • QLD – law states that for children under 12, a parent who “leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour’. What is classed as “unreasonable” is always dependent upon context and circumstances.
  • All other states/territories – law does not dictate what age children may be left alone, just that parents must generally provide adequate care and supervision for their children.

Victorian law is set to change, though when this change happens is not yet clear.

Parents need to be aware of their own child’s capabilities and confidence when deciding when to leave them unsupervised. So when judging if your children are old enough to be left at home without adult supervision, the main considerations are:

  • Are they afraid or are they confident to be alone?
  • Would they make a sensible decision in the case of an emergency – would they know how to call a trusted adult relative or friend who lives nearby who could tell them what to do and come and help?
  • Would they know what to do if there was a fire? How to get out of the house? Which neighbours they can trust to go to for help?
  • What would happen if you didn’t get home at the time you thought you’d get home? What if the car broke down or you were involved in an accident? Could they cope?
  • Do they know phone numbers to call in an emergency or if they need help (e.g. 000, your numbers, grandparents numbers etc.), and are confident using the phone?
  • Can you trust them to follow your normal house rules if you aren’t there?

If you can answer the above points and feel that your child will be fine if left alone, there shouldn’t be a problem with leaving them – for a reasonable length of time. Always make sure they are happy to be left alone, and there are plans in place if anything out of the ordinary were to happen.

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One comment so far -

  1. If a child under 16 is unable to be left alone in Vic or any other state, what provisions are there for those whose parents work outside of school hours? They are unable to attend after school care services form year 7 (high school in nsw) so there really aren’t any other options for many!

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