If you are planning to go Hajj and are considering leaving your children behind, you must ensure that they will be very well looked after by a trustworthy adult relative or family friend, or by a professional, qualified and registered childminder or baby sitter. You should ensure that the carers will be present with the child throughout your entire absence. In addition to the child’s physical health and safety, the carer should also ensure that the child is safe when going online.
Although the law does not specify a particular age at which a child can be left home alone, Legislation in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 on Cruelty to Persons Under Sixteen makes it very clear that parents and carers will be prosecuted for neglect if their child is at risk of harm as a result of being left alone. A child by law is aged 18 years old and under. If a child is suspected of being at risk for being left alone, police should be notified on 101. At which point, the police will attend the property to check on the child’s well-being and investigate the safeguarding risks on the child and contact their parents or guardian. If a child is suspected of being in immediate harm, then notified neighbours are advised to contact 999 immediately.
The reason why the law does not specify a certain age for when a child may be left alone is because children mature differently and at different ages. The judgement is left for the parent to make based on their knowledge of their child’s maturity.
However, the NSPCC sets strict restrictions in place, which if breached will result in certain or highly probable child neglect. Ultimately, under no circumstances should babies and toddlers ever be left home alone, whether awake or asleep, even if it is for a quick trip down the road. They can become very distressed over their parent or carer’s absence and if they are in an emergency, they will be helpless.
The NSPCC guidance also advises that children under 12 should never be left home alone as they will not be able to act appropriately in case of an emergency, such as a power cut, fire or flooded bathroom. Additionally, children under 16 should not be left home alone overnight.
In cases where children are left with adult siblings, parents should reflect on the consequences of a falling out between them and whether the younger child will be safe.
An important factor in deciding the readiness of a child aged 16 and over to be left alone is how comfortable they feel about the idea. If the 16 and over child express the slightest discomfort than the idea should not be pursued any further and the child’s wishes -even if subtle- must be favoured.
Additionally, extra careful thought must be put in when considering leaving a child with additional needs with another adult professional or sibling.