With kids back to school after the summer holidays, many of the parents among you may be asking: when is it okay to let your kids take themselves to and from school and come home to an empty house?

The answer is: it depends and it’s a judgement call for parents to make in respect of each individual child.

The law provides no set age for allowing children out and about unsupervised or leaving them home alone. However, if the child is under 16, then the parent remains legally responsible for the child’s safety and may commit an offence if their child is put at risk.

Children under 16 will vary very much in terms of their level of maturity. The decision as to whether to let children travel to and from school alone or come home to an empty house for a period after school is one that has to be made by the parents, taking into account the age of the child concerned, their level of maturity and understanding, the place they will be and how long they will be left, amongst other relevant factors.

The NSPCC recommends that children under 12 are not left at home for more than a short time; and that children under 16 are not left overnight.

If a parent is judged to have left their child at risk, they can be prosecuted for neglect and can potentially be subject to a fine or imprisonment.

These are some questions parents might like to consider when making a decision:

  1. Are they road safety conscious?
  2. How would they cope in a difficult or emergency situation – like being approached by a stranger or if there is a power cut? What would they do if they hurt themselves?
  3. Are they able to contact you, a family member, a friend or neighbour if they need to?
  4. Would they be able to get themselves something to eat or drink unaided at home?
  5. Would they attempt to use kitchen appliances and would you be comfortable with that?
  6. How would they feel about being left alone?
  7. What would you want them to do if someone came to the door; and would they do what you had told them to in that situation?