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Is it illegal to leave your children alone at home?

in Criminal Law by Slater and Gordon on
Is it illegal to leave your children alone at home?

With school holidays fast approaching, it might be a timely refresher to see if you can legally leave your child(ren) at home. The laws vary in each state, so it's important to get the facts straight. 

It turns out the Wet Bandits were not the only ones on the wrong side of the law in the Home Alone series – if the McCallisters lived in Queensland, Kevin’s parents might have joined the would-be burglars in jail.

In the lead up to the school holidays, Slater and Gordon criminal lawyer Emma Aldersea is reminding parents of their legal obligations when it comes to child supervision.

From what we've heard, it seems that the vast majority of the community are more confused than worried about unattended children laws, and many think it’s excessive, particularly when they actually hear what the penalty is. Here's a breakdown of unattended children laws in some states:

Queensland

LegislationQueensland Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD) - Section 364A

(1) Queensland is the only state that explicitly states “children under the age of 12 cannot be left alone for an unreasonable” amount of time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child.

If a person who has the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child commits a misdemeanour.

Maximum penalty – 3 years imprisonment.

(2) Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

In NSW, SA and the NT, offences related to leaving your child home alone would likely fall under child neglect laws, which might apply in specific circumstances.

In Victoria, WA, Tasmania and the ACTinadequate child supervision offences could apply to children of up to 16 or 18 years of age (depending on the state) in certain circumstances.

According to criminal lawyer, Emma Aldersea, “There’s also the Commonwealth Family Law Act, which makes it pretty clear that parents and guardians have an obligation to provide children with accommodation, food, clothing and other necessities of life.”

When deciding whether the time left alone was unreasonable, the courts will consider things like the age and capacity of the child, the length of time the child is left unattended, the presence or absence of shelter, food and water, and the reason the child was left unattended

What constitutes an unreasonable amount of time and reasonable supervision and care will depend on the circumstance(s).  

RECENT CASE STUDIES

  • A Toowoomba mother was sentenced to six months jail last year for leaving her seven and eight year old sons locked inside their home for more than 90 minutes while out with her partner and their other three children. The Magistrate said the incident was very, very serious and warned of the potential tragedies that could have occurred.
     
  • In 2014, a Mount Isa mother pleaded guilty to leaving her four year old son unattended at home while she went to the corner store. She told the court that she was gone for no longer than 5 minutes and left her son at home as he was unwell. She was put on a good behaviour bond for nine months.
     
  • In an extreme case, a Perth stepmother faced court after leaving two children aged four and six at home alone for three days while she travelled overseas. The woman faced two counts of engaging in conduct which could result in harm to a child.

For more information, see our Criminal Law services.