When can I leave my child alone?

This is a question that all parents ask themselves and there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer, hence the stories in the paper about 8-year-olds being returned by the police when catching the bus by themselves. Personally I remember catching 2 buses to primary school, so times they are a-changing, indeed!

I am currently studying to become a NSW Primary School Teacher, and as such become a mandatory reporter in issues of children at risk of harm. The following comes from the Mandatory Reporter Guide which can be found online at  the NSW Community Services Website and could help clarify the matter.

 

Child/young person MAY be considered in danger if left alone longer than indicated in the following table. These times are a guide only. Times would be dependent on the environmental context and the individual characteristics of the child/young person. For example, a toddler who is unable to swim should not be unattended near water for any amount of time. The greater the environmental risk, the shorter the time a child/young person should be unattended. The circumstances listed provide examples of conditions that, if present, may mitigate risk.

 

Age / Developmental Age of
Oldest Child / Young Person
Time Alone Circumstances
Infant/Toddler May be briefly unattended with parent/carer in another room. • Another responsible adult is present.
• Child is asleep or in safe setting (e.g., play pen, child seat,protected area) while parent/carer sleeps or attends to other responsibilities, including self-care.
Preschool 5–15 minutes, parent/carer within hearing of child Child is asleep, quietly playing, or in safe circumstances and has been given instructions child is capable of following for remaining where he/she is.
Ages 5–7 15–60 minutes, parent/carer within hearing of child Child is asleep, quietly playing, or in safe circumstances and has been given instructions child is capable of following for remaining where he/she is.
Ages 8–9 2 hours Child is in safe circumstances and has been given instructions child is capable of following for remaining where he/she is.
Ages 10–13 12 hours, and not alone between 10:00p.m and 6:00a.m. • There is a backup adult available to child who is accessible, on call and able to give assistance.
• Not responsible for supervision of more than two other children.
Ages 14–15 24 hours • There is a backup adult available to child.
• Child has demonstrated ability to self-supervise.
• Not responsible for supervision of more than two other children.
Ages 16–17 More than 24 hours Assess safety based on young person’s capacity to live independently. Refer to ‘Lack of Shelter’ decision tree if needed.

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