Although it may not be ideal, sometimes it is necessary to leave a child at home on their own. In this situation it is difficult to know when it is safe to do so and when it is dangerous. Everyone has seen the painful scene in Home Alone when Kevin comes down to an empty house on Christmas Day, after spending the week fighting off armed thieves. It is hardly a realistic portrayal, but there are certainly elements of truth in there. There may be unseen dangers just waiting around the corner and if a child is not used to being alone it can be quite traumatic.
According to the law there is no set minimum age when a child can be left at home alone. There is, however, a rule that a child should never be left alone if he or she is at risk. This includes risk of harm from others or from themselves. The Children and Young Person's Act states that if children are left ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health' it can lead to prosecution.
When considering leaving a child alone, take into account how long they will potentially be left for. If it is for a short amount of time and the child is mature enough to act responsibly then it is usually safe to leave them on their own. If it is for a considerable amount of time it is advisable to find a child minder or ask a neighbor to check in on them and keep an eye out.
The NSPCC advises that very young children and babies should never be left on their own. They also suggest that children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone and those under 16 may be more mature but should not be left alone overnight.