There’s a pervasive myth in New Zealand that it’s illegal to leave children under the age of 14 at home alone, unsupervised. If you think that you’re not allowed to leave your kids at home alone, that can create considerable logistical problems.
As it turns out, the law doesn’t say you can’t leave children unsupervised. What it says is:
Leaving child without reasonable supervision and care
Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, being a parent or guardian or a person for the time being having the care of a child under the age of 14 years, leaves that child, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances.
Source: Summary Offences Act 1981
In plain English, you may leave your child unsupervised, as long as it’s reasonable.
Of course, that begs the question about what is reasonable. CYF (Child Youth and Family) has some suggestions about things you should consider.
– the age and needs of the child
– the child’s level of maturity and understanding
– the place where the child was left
– how long the child was left alone, and how often this occurs
– were any other children left alone with the child
– is a pre-arranged responsible adult accessible to the child
– does the child know what to do or who to contact in an emergency
– is there a responsible adult that will check in on the child
Long story short: it’s fine to leave your kids at home while you head out to the supermarket, or drop into the office to collect some work, or go to a meeting, or out for a run, provided you’re sensible about.
For me, that means that I have been leaving my daughters at home, alone, since they reached the age of about eight or nine years, for short periods, and for increasingly longer periods as they get older. I’ve always been more cautious about leaving my younger daughters at home, because of some concerns I have about group dynamics, but in general, as they have gotten older, I have found that they manage just fine. I try to ensure that they have a settled activity to engage in, because leaving children unsupervised and bored sounds like a invitation to trouble to me, and I make sure they know how to get hold of me if they need me. So far, all has been well.
And it seems to me that children will only develop the maturity and skills to look after themselves if they are given the opportunity to manage by themselves.
What’s your cut-off point for leaving children home alone?