Pose this question to anyone and there is bound to be conflicting and polarising views, and it may even spark an emotional debate. Interestingly, the law in Australia is somewhat of a ‘grey area’ as it doesn’t provide much clarity for this important decision all parents have to make regarding their children. In Family Law, this decision can be very difficult when the conflicting views are held by separated parents.
Under the Family Law Act parents are expected to provide their children with food, clothing, a place to live, safety, and supervision. Failing to comply with the legislation can result in a parent being charged (Crimes Act) or the child being removed (Children and Young Person Act). All of these are open to interpretation with no definitive age identified, suffice to say, the ultimate responsibility sits with the parent/s or legal guardian to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children. That said, babies and toddlers should not be left at home alone under any circumstances no matter how short a time.
Parental or Legal Guardian judgement and common sense are key, and any decision to leave a minor at home alone should be made in consideration of the age and maturity of the child/ren, and importantly, the length of time they are to be left at home alone as these will have a strong impact in determining what’s best. Clear boundaries should be applied and understood by the child/ren in terms of what is allowable in the absence of the parent/guardian, and careful attention should be given to how capable they are in the event of an emergency, in particular, do they know where you are and when you’ll be home, and do they know how to contact you or an emergency service if required?
Family and Community Services is a great source of information, and this checklist can help guide decision making:
- Know where the parent is going and when they will be back
- How to contact the parent
- How to use the telephone
- Where emergency numbers are listed
- Know their own address and phone number
- Know the phone numbers of trusted friends and family
- Where to find the first aid kit and how to use it
- If they can play outside
- Whether they can use a swimming pool
- How to use deadlocks
- What to do in case of a fire
- What to do if someone knocks on the door
- Whether or not they should answer a ringing phone
- How to judge if another child is unwell and help is needed
- How to contact the doctor, hospital, police and fire brigade in the case of an emergency
- If friends are allowed to be over
- If they are allowed to go to the shops or visit a neighbour
Often, babysitters or carers under the age of 18 are provided or employed to supervise a minor, and sometimes parents have no choice but to do so. The checklist should always be taken into consideration when identifying the best underage carer for your child, in addition, they should be reliable, mature, and very capable of managing an emergency situation enabling your child to feel safe. Can they also manage an unexpected illness, or any disagreement or fights over boundaries with the minor? It’s important to understand, if something should go wrong, the question of negligence and liability could arise with the parent being held responsible, therefore it’s always recommended the carer be an adult.
At the end of the day, good judgement and common sense is always required to keep your child safe under any circumstance. Under the Family Law Act 1975, the best interests of the child is of the utmost importance and should be taken into consideration with every decision made. We recommend you always err on the side of caution when it comes to deciding to leave your child/ren at home unsupervised, especially if you are in the midst of a parenting matter.