Family law: Should parents be penalised for leaving youngsters home alone?

Family law: Should parents be penalised for leaving youngsters home alone?

Police officers have cautioned a woman who left her teenage son babysitting his three-year-old brother.

The woman, a mother of three living in the Thames Valley area, said she was away for just 30 minutes and that she did not believe the toddler was in any danger.

Yet the married 40-year-old was suspended from her job for 18 months and she lost a place on a nursing course because of the caution. She is now fighting the Criminal Records Bureau to have the caution amended.

Parents across the country have logged on to websites such as Mumsnet, the Sunday Times and the BBC to express their shock at the harsh penalty this mother has been given.

They are asking where they legally stand if they want to leave their children
unsupervised at home.

The truth is that the law does not specify a set age at which children can be left at home by themselves. The Children and Young Persons Act states that parents should not leave a child unsupervised “in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health,” but this leaves police with a vast amount of discretion in enforcing this law.

The NSPCC has produced guidelines that recommend that no child under 13 should be left in the house alone, and that no young person under 16 should be left to care for a younger child.

It might be worth bearing these guidelines in mind, for now, because the mother’s ban is not an isolated incident. In November two nurses were barred from working with children after receiving similar cautions. The pair took their cases to the High Court, where it was decided that the bans were unlawful.

Related articles
Should a teen be left to babysit a toddler? (BBC)
Learn more about child welfare (
More on Criminal Records Bureau checks (
Find a UK solicitor in your area (

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