The law does not say an age when you can leave a child on their own, but it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.
Use your judgement on how mature your child is before you decide to leave them alone, for example at home or in a car.
- children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
- children under 16 should not be left alone overnight
- babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’.
What is parental responsibility?
All mothers and most fathers have legal rights and responsibilities as a parent – known as ‘parental responsibility’.
If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to:
- provide a home for the child
- protect and maintain the child
You’re also responsible for:
- disciplining the child
- choosing and providing for the child’s education
- agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
- naming the child and agreeing to any change of name
- looking after the child’s property
Parents have to ensure that their child is supported financially, whether they have parental responsibility or not.
Parental responsibility for separated parents
If you have parental responsibility for a child but you do not live with them, it does not mean you have a right to spend time with your children. However, the other parent must include you when making important decisions about their lives.
You do not always need to get the consent of the other parent for routine decisions, even if they also have parental responsibility.
If it’s a major decision (for example, one of you wants to move abroad with your children) both parents with responsibility must agree in writing.
You can apply for a Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order if you cannot agree. A judge will then make a decision which is in your children’s best interests.
You must make sure your children are financially supported, whether you have parental responsibility or not.
You can get help to arrange contact with your children.