Knowing when it’s safe to leave your kids at home alone.
Each family is different, so it’s important that you consider your child’s age, maturity and ability to cope with an emergency when deciding if they can be safely left at home alone. Remember, in Queensland it is illegal to leave a child under 12 years of age alone for ‘an unreasonable time’, depending on circumstances. Do not leave infants, toddlers or young children alone under any circumstances.
If you are leaving your child at home without a carer, they should be old enough and mature enough to take action in an emergency. If leaving an older child in charge, ensure they are able to enforce the rules or take action if another child becomes unwell. Ask them if they know what to do and where to go to get help if need be.
If you feel they are ready, start with small periods of time and slowly grow the responsibility.
In an emergency
Check that your child knows what actions they should take in the event of an emergency, including in case of a fire and how to call Triple Zero (000).
- Before you leave, you should write down and explain where you are going and when you will be back, how to get in contact with you and your home telephone number and address. You may need to explain to your child that the police, fire and ambulance services will need this information if contacted.
Making the place safe
Accidents can happen quickly. A child could fall into a swimming pool, pull a saucepan off the stove, swallow dangerous objects or play with matches, whether you are there or not. Before you leave you child at home alone, make sure your home is safe and all dangers have been removed. It’s also a good idea to talk to your child about what to do if someone knocks on the door or if the telephone rings.
- Laying down the rules before you go can be a great way to keep your child out of harm’s way. For instance, are they allowed to use the pool or make themselves a hot drink while you are away?
Who’s in charge?
If leaving older and younger siblings at home, consider if it is reasonable to expect the older siblings to take care of the younger. Are they capable of handling arguments and enforcing the rules? They should know what to do in an emergency and what to do if the younger children get sick. Discuss the responsibilities with your child and make sure they feel comfortable being home alone before you go.
If you are leaving someone else in charge, think carefully about who is responsible enough to handle every possible circumstance.
Before you go
Ensure you have emergency information written down and on hand for your child. This should include where you are going, when you will be back and how to contact you, your home address and telephone number, and the telephone number of trusted friends or family. Remember, leaving your child at home alone should be your last choice, not your first, so check again that your child feels comfortable in being left at home alone, or in charge of other children.
- It’s a good idea to do a final once over to check the safety of your house before you leave and check in regularly while you’re out, to make sure they are okay.