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What age can you leave your children home alone?

At what age can you leave children home alone in Australia

As children grow and become more responsible, parents may wonder at what age it’s appropriate—and legal—to leave them unsupervised.

Queensland is the only state to specify an age at which parents can legally leave their children unsupervised.

In all other states, the law does not dictate what age children may be left alone, only that parents are legally obliged to ensure their children are safe and properly looked after.

As a parent it is up to you to make a judgement based on the age and maturity of your child and your individual circumstances before deciding whether or not it is safe and appropriate to leave them unsupervised.

It is never OK to leave babies, toddlers or small children at home alone, even for the shortest amount of time.

Leaving children unsupervised—what is the law?

Below are the current laws regarding leaving children unsupervised for each state and territory in Australia.

Queensland

In Queensland the CRIMINAL CODE 1899-SECT 364A states that “a person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanor.

The maximum penalty is 3 years imprisonment.

Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

All other states/territories

In all other states and territories the law does not dictate what age children may be left alone, just that parents must generally provide adequate care and supervision for their children.

So how do you decide if your child is ready to be left unsupervised?

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 a phone?
  • Can you trust them to follow your normal house rules if you aren’t there?

How to prepare a child for being left alone and unsupervised?

Being left at home alone is an important step along the road to independence and teenagers can benefit from the extra responsibility. If you have decided they’re ready to be left unsupervised, there are things you can do to help make sure they’re ready.

  • Always make sure they are happy to be left alone, and don’t assume that if they were happy to be left alone once that they’re happy to be left alone again.
  • Make some rules and make sure they know the rules. Examples include: are they allowed to make a snack, use the toaster, go into the yard, invite friends over, answer the front door if someone knocks etc.
  • Build them up gradually. Grow their confidence by leaving for shorter amounts of time at first.
  • Make sure they know where you are going, how long you’ll be and how they can contact you if they need to.
  • Leave a list of emergency contact numbers and make sure they know what constitutes an emergency and what to do in an emergency.
  • If an older sibling is to look after younger siblings make sure everyone knows who is in charge. Make sure the child in change knows what to do if the younger ones don’t follow rules or get into an argument.

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3 Comments so far -
  • JC says:

    Why are Victorian Gov so stupid? I left home at 16. If you can leave home at 16, work at 14, travel independently from a very young age then you should be ok at home. Hello…..

    • Hi JC! Thanks for your comment. It actually alerted us to the fact that this out dated article was on the site displaying incorrect information. At the time of writing in 2014, the Victorian Government WAS attempting to introduce a law to say that under 16s could not be left alone. They did not end up passing this law. We have now removed reference to it from the article. Sorry for the misinformation and thanks again for helping bring it to our attention. Take care

  • Nell says:

    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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