With the school holidays upon us, parents might consider leaving children home alone or with a child baby-sitter.
But they should be aware that the law does not provide a “bright line rule” on when it is acceptable to do so.
Elaine E Sutherland, a member of the Law Society of Scotland’s Family Law Sub-Committee and Professor of Child and Family Law at Stirling University, offers some guidance for confused parents.
She says: “In Scotland, there is no statutory age – no bright line rule – governing when a child under 16 years old may be left at home alone. Nor is there a single, simple rule on when an older child may baby-sit for a younger child.
“That is rather frustrating for parents, but it simply reflects the fact that children and young people are individuals, capable of taking responsibility for themselves and for others at different ages.
“Parents know their own children and are usually in the best position to assess whether a particular child can be left unattended and in what circumstances. Obviously, this is something that should never be done with babies or younger children. As far as older children under 16 are concerned, factors like the child’s maturity, the length of the parent’s absence, the time of day and whether there is an adult available nearby to help out should an emergency arise, are all relevant considerations.
“As with every important decision affecting a child, parents should talk to the child about it and take the child’s views seriously. In fact, they are legally obliged to give the child involved the opportunity to express his or her views and to take these views into account in the light of the child’s age and maturity.”
In deciding how to deal with the care of their children while they are at work, parents should bear in mind that there are various aspects of the law that come into play – general family law, child protection law, criminal law and, as far as baby-sitters are concerned, employment law.
Professor Sutherland says: “Leaving a child under 16 years old alone or in charge of younger siblings is inherently risky, so a parent should be prepared to justify the decision.
“While a parent may delegate the care of a child to another person, the parent remains responsible for the child’s welfare while in the other person’s care and it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure the baby-sitter is up to the job. If a child comes to harm while home alone or in the care of an unsuitable baby-sitter, the parent may face prosecution.”
Professor Sutherland adds that it is against the law to employ someone under 14 years old, which is something to think about if a young person is paid for baby-sitting. In addition, 14 and 15 year olds should not be employed before 7am or after 7pm.
ENDS AUGUST 9 2011
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