The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Point of information

Cross posted

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?

5 responses to “Point of information

  1. Msconduct July 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Can’t speak to the cut-off point thing, as I don’t have children, but your post made me wonder how old babysitters usually are in New Zealand? (As a non-parent I don’t know that either.) As far as I can make out from afar, it’s common in the US for thirteen year olds to babysit, thus pointing to a cultural assumption that thirteen year olds are not only perfectly OK on their own, but are mature enough to have responsibility for someone else’s younger children too. Which seems a somewhat different assumption than that made by New Zealand law.

  2. Sally July 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Hi there – yes I have done short stints with my son – was available by cellphone and not far away… HOWEVER living in Christchurch it has become pretty well unreasonable to leave a child as the fear of aftershocks has been so intense and so ongoing. Been very tough as children want to be trusted to cope but how to then even consider giving them that responsibiltiy withteh possibility that the entire world may shift.

  3. Emma July 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Reproducing my comment from Deborah’s place:

    When the kids were around eight or nine, I was perfectly happy to leave one of them at home alone, but not both of them at home together. Gradually, especially with them having experience of coping without us, we all got more and more comfortable with it. My oldest would never misbehave, but might not notice if the house caught fire. My daughter is more difficult but also more practical.

    What we’re looking at now (my oldest is about to turn sixteen) is when they are equipped so we can leave them alone for a weekend. So maybe we can take a trip to Wellington and leave them behind. We’re not quite there yet.

    And then adding: Sally, I live in Christchurch. My partner and I left our children on their own the night before last, while we went out to dinner. I totally understand people wanting to keep their kids in sight as much as possible, but I don’t think it’s “unreasonable” to leave them on their own, surely?

  4. Isabel July 21, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Prior to to earthquake my nine-year-old had been busing home alone for around a year and, had the situation arisen, I’d have been happy for him to be home alone for a shortish period. He’s quite happy with his own company so being alone wouldn’t bother him and he’s generally fairly responsible. I’d leave him and his six-year-old brother for the ten minutes it takes to walk to the corner dairy and back but no longer than that without a referee for a good few years yet. They are allowed to walk to the shop together (one quiet road) or scoot round the block (no roads to cross) together and the older may go alone. The younger lad is a bit more of a loose cannon and likes to have company for every moment of the day so he may well be quite a bit older before I either leave him or let him out into the world solo.

  5. coleytangerina July 22, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I have yet to sprog, but I remember being left at home from probably about 8 or 9 for short periods of time, and then longer up to being home by myself all day in the school holidays at 12/13.

    As I was an only child and I was too afraid of my Mum to ever contemplate causing a ruckus my biggest issue was being scared because I was alone and what really helped was having a big dog who was super protective of me and the house. I know that probably sounds fruity but I fully intend to get a large, intelligent and well-trained dog and use it as an occasional (reasonable) babysitter!

    Also, I believe that 14 is the age where you can become a babysitter to other kids.

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