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Parents risk jail by leaving kids home alone

Did you know parents can be fined or jailed for leaving primary-school-aged children home alone?

However a new survey by The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia has revealed one in 10 children under 12 will spend the school holiday alone without supervision.

Parents are risking fines of up to $1650 and even jail time for leaving young children home alone due to financial pressure and job pressure limiting their choices.

Queensland is the harshest – and most specific – state when it comes to punishing parents for leaving children home alone. Parents risk up to three years in jail for the crime of "leaving a child under 12 unattended.”

 In Victoria the fine is $1650 and up to three months in jail for "leaving a child unattended." It's covered under the Child, Youth and Families Act stating that parents "must not leave a child without making reasonable provision for the child's supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case."

There have been 24,000 reports of "inadequate supervision" of children to the NSW Department of Community Services. NSW doesn't state an age at which children can be left home alone and deals with reports on a case-by-case basis.

In the NT and South Australia there is no legal specification as to when a child can be left home alone either.

Tassie parents risk up to three months in jail for leaving young children home alone without good reason and also doesn't specify an age.

Most parents caught are dobbed in by neighbours.

It's a big shift in attitude from the days of the "latch key kid". Generation X is often called the "latch key kid generation", with parent from the mid-70s and well into the 90s often leaving children home alone either before or after school.

My son has just turned nine and I've started a new job where I commute to and from the city three days a week. I'd just been toying with the idea of having him catch the bus home and let himself into the house (I'd arrive home around 30 minutes later) when I came across an article listing all the punishments parents can face for doing just this.

Children under 12 aren't meant to be left home alone without good reason but I know families who do. The children in question are mature and well-behaved. Sometimes they are 10 or 11 and are left in charge of younger siblings while parents grocery shop or perhaps for an hour before mums and dads arrive home from work each day.

Stefanie Mullen at Ooph has created a handy checklist for parents before leaving kids alone for the first time:

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1. Create a list of family friends or relatives to call in case they are unable to reach you in an emergency. The list should also include 000, Poison Control, your home address and phone number. Kids can panic in crisis make sure everything is spelled out for them. Keep the list in one place and never move it. If they have a cell phone, put all of those numbers in their cell phone as well.

2. Never play with knives. Or matches. Or Porn. The first two need to be told to them the latter requires parents to make sure that parental controls are on the television and computers. 

3. In case they ignore the “Don’t Play with Knives” rule and decide to use one to open the plastic wrapped toy you bought them, make sure they know CPR or at the very least first aid. How to stop bleeding for example.

4. In case they ignore the “Don’t play with matches” rule or decide to cook up a four course meal, they should most definitely be instructed what to do in case of a fire. Including how to use a fire extinguisher but most importantly, “We love you way more than this house,” so GET OUT if the fire is big. Also, trying to save your Xbox is a REALLY bad idea.

5. NEVER answer the front door. EVER. (The same applies to the back door.)

6.Never tell others you are home alone. This includes posting on your Facebook wall, “OMG. My stupid parents finally trusted me enough to leave me alone. Who wants to come over?” Which leads to the next point.

7. No friends over. PERIOD. It’s a liability, a distraction and an invitation for mischief. 

8. Tell them you will be home in about an hour and get back home in 30 minutes. My parents taught me this one. Brilliant move by them. I never knew when they would be home which kept me on my toes and out of trouble.

9. Instruct them to never take medicine without calling you first. Our son’s friend once took an OTC cough medicine while his parents were out. After reading the dosage of two tablespoons, he decided, and I use his words, “If two is good, eight must be better.” He was thirteen at the time. You never know when a case of the stupids will attack. Make sure you cover your bases. 

10. Create a contract. Put the rules on paper. Can they go outside? Can they use the stove? And so on and so on. Read over it with your child and you both sign the contract. 

What are your thoughts? Should parents be fined for leaving a child under 12 at home unsupervised?

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