Home alone at Christmas? leaving your children unsupervised.

Now that December has finally arrived, whilst it means you can pop open your advent calendar and get the decorations down from the loft, for those who are separated parents, it can be a fairly stressful time of the year. With school holidays looming, the issues of conflicting work patterns and annual leave tied in with the desire for both parents to spend time with their children can lead to problems sorting out childcare if there are last minute changes and the decision if you leave your children unsupervised.

As a family solicitor, I have often been asked whether there is a legal age limit when a child can be left home alone and unsupervised if there are last minute problems with childcare due to cancellation of annual leave and the requirement to work. Surprisingly enough there isn’t actually a legal age to leave children unsupervised at home. The only point to note is that if leaving a child at home unsupervised could place the child at risk of harm, then there could be serious repercussions. For example, a parent can be prosecuted for neglect and be fined or sent to prison. Therefore the decision to leave a child home alone is left solely to be made by the parent.

The NSPCC and common sense suggests that babies and young children (under the age of 12) should never be left alone, even for a short time. They basically are not at an age where they can deal with a problem correctly if it arose. The NSPCC also advise that a child under the age of 16 should not be left on their own overnight.

However every child is different and the parent should know their own child. If a parent is considering leaving their children unsupervised, then they need to weigh the age and level of maturity and understanding of their child alongside factors such as the length of time the child will spend on their own (is it for half an hour or several hours?) and the environment they will be left in (is it in their home or at the park). Really if the decision is made by a parent to leave a child alone and unsupervised, then a responsible parent would at least take precautionary measures. For example, they may notify trustworthy neighbours and/or friends/family that live in close proximity that their child will be on their own and leave enough contact details for their child to call if needed including details for the police and medical emergencies.

If you need any help or advice on the law on leaving children ‘home alone’ child care arrangements over the Christmas holidays then please one of the family team at any of our office to arrange a free initial consultation.

For more information about Chafes Hague Lambert Solicitors and the Family Department, please see our website

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