Although your child may be aged 12 years or older, you as the parent/carer are best placed to know whether your child is mature, sensible and trustworthy enough to be left home alone for a couple of hours after school until you can return home from work. There may be circumstances or additional needs, where your child would not be safe being left at home by themselves.
The Minimum Standards were introduced in Northern Ireland in 2012 for Childminding and Day Care for Children Under Age 12. The Minimum Standards for Childminding and Daycare were developed to clarify the requirements that are contained within The Children (NI) Order 1995 (the child protection legislative framework for Northern Ireland which covers Childminding and Day Care for Young Children).
The Early Years Teams within the Health & Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland are responsible for ensuring that Registered Childcare providers in Northern Ireland comply with the Minimum Standards.
In short, this means that registered childcare provision in Northern Ireland covers children in the 0-12 years age bracket.
12 years of age is only a suggested age that a child may be mature and responsible enough to be left alone for a longer period of time, such as after school for a couple of hours. Each child is individual and there may be circumstances where it would not be safe to leave a child of this age home alone.
Although the remit of the Early Years Teams in Northern Ireland finishes at 12 years, you should contact your local Early Years Team to discuss your individual circumstances.
If you have found a childminder/out of school facility that are willing to look after your older child, they should discuss this with their registering Early Years Team/Social Worker. The Early Years Team will ask the Childcare Provider to complete a Risk Assessment, check their insurance and will adjust the registered number of children they can look after accordingly. You should not leave your child with a Registered Childcare Provider that has not first sought advice from their Early Years Team.
You should carefully consider whether your child could come to any risk by being home alone. Speak to your child to find out how they feel, they may feel excited at the possibility of the extra independence, or they may feel scared to be left on their own. You can find useful advice and points to consider on the following links, which should help you decide if it is safe.
If you still cannot decide whether it is safe to leave your child home alone, the following organisations can provide you with free, impartial advice:
Parenting NI - Freephone Support Service: 0808 8010 722 (Mon-Thurs 9.30am-3.30pm & Fri 9.30am-12.30pm)
The law doesn't state an age when you can leave your child home alone, but it is an offence to leave a child home alone if it places them at risk.
Useful guidance on Family Law can be found on the Children's Law Centre website, which covers the topic of children being left at home.
Take some time to sit down with your child to discuss how they would cope or react in the case of an accident or emergency situation.
Set some basic rules of what your child can and can’t do while you’re out. Do they have easy access to a telephone and have your telephone number to hand? Can you answer your phone quickly if they ring? Is there a responsible, trustworthy adult close by that they can contact quickly in an emergency?
Preparing your child to prevent or deal with situations as they may arise can go some way to reassuring parent and child.
The following links may be helpful:
ROSPA - Preventing Accidents in the Home
ROSPA - Home Safety
Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service - Fire Safety in the Home
Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service - Free Home Fire Safety Check
NI Direct - First Aid
British Red Cross -First Aid Learning for Young People
British Red Cross - Free First Aid App (First Aid at your fingertips)
PSNI - Quick Check Scheme (Check callers to your home are genuine)
Think U Know - Protecting children both online and offline
NSPCC - Online Safety
NSPCC - Talk PANTS (teach your child how to stay safe from abuse)
If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk or is being abused, you should contact the Social Services Gateway Team (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm exc. bank hols):
Emergency Social Work Number: 028 9504 9999 (for emergencies only outside office working hours).
If the child is in immediate danger you should telephone 999.