Did you know Children should be at least Twelve years before they are left home alone for four hours or longer?

Scientists asked for the opinions of 500 workers in a survey – and found half thought it should be illegal for a 12-year-old to be on their own for long periods.

Researchers called for laws to specify the age at which a child should be left home alone in order to clarify boundaries.

The University of Iowa team said it would help social workers spot cases of neglect and protect children from potential harm.

Children should be at least twelve years old before they are left home alone for four hours or longer, most social workers in a US survey believe

A total of 485 members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) were quizzed over email by Dr Charles Jennissen and team. Researchers asked for their opinions on a scenario in which a child was left home alone for four hours. 

The scenarios varied by the age of the child, whether they had been injured or not, and if relevant ‘home alone’ laws existed. 

Nearly every social worker said leaving a child who was six or younger home alone for four hours was neglect.  Around half of respondents said it was neglect to leave a 10-year-old or younger to be home alone.

A lower proportion described the scenario as neglect when a child was aged 12 (11 per cent) or 14 (one per cent).

Asked what age should it be illegal to leave a child alone for four hours, half agreed the law should apply to children aged 12 or younger.

Eighty per cent agreed it should be illegal for children under 10 years, and 94 per cent said less than eight years.

 

What is the advice for leaving children home alone?

The NSCPCC advises:

  • Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
  • Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time
  • Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight
  • Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone
  • A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, regardless of their age
  • If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling
  • When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out – would they both be safe?

However, Dr Jennisen said: ‘The level of neglect is really the same whether a child knowingly left home alone is injured or not.

‘And such situations should be handled the same by child protective investigators.’ 

Despite their being no law, parents in the UK can be fined or sent to prison if they are judged to have placed a child at risk of harm by leaving them home alone. 

photo courtesy

Neglect can include failure to provide supervision to a degree which harms a child’s safety, according to US Department of Health and Human Services. 

An NSPCC spokesman said: ‘There’s such a variation in the rate that children mature that it would be difficult to come up with a “one size fits all” rule.  

‘Instead, in the UK the choice is left to parents who know their children best and can use their own judgement about when best to leave a child. 

‘Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time. 

‘Needless to say, babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.’ 

Studies have shown that 40 per cent of paediatric injury-related deaths in the US are due to a lack of adult supervision, the authors said. 

In the UK, more than two million children under the age of 15 are taken to A&E for an accident in the home every year.

Dr Gerene Denning, emeritus research scientist at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, said: ‘This study recognizes that there are critical connections between safety laws, advocates and professionals in child welfare, and families with small children.

‘It takes partnership between all of these to prevent childhood injuries.’ The research is being presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2019 National Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans and has not been published. 

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