Leaving children unattended

The law in Victoria

Parents are expected to provide their child with food, clothing, a place to live, safety and supervision.

In Victoria it is an offence for a person responsible for a child to leave the child unattended for any longer than is reasonable, without making appropriate arrangements for the child’s supervision and care.

This includes leaving a child at home, or in a car, or anywhere else unattended.

In Victoria there is no set age at which it is legal to leave a child unattended. It depends on the child and the situation.

When deciding whether to charge a person with this offence, authorities must consider each case individually to determine the reasonableness of the circumstances in which the child was left unattended, including the needs of the particular child. The Secretary of the Department of Human Services has to be consulted before a charge can be laid. 

From 21 January 2015, the penalty for leaving children unattended is a fine of 25 penalty units or imprisonment for six months or both.

Leaving children unattended at home

Part of growing up is becoming more independent, step by step. Being left at home alone is part of developing independence and all parents make the decision to leave their child at home alone sooner or later.

Babies and young children should never be left at home alone. As children get older they need the opportunity to gradually take on more responsibility for themselves and practice being by themselves at home.

Parents are in the best position to decide whether their child is mature enough to be left alone for any length of time.

  • When leaving your child at home for the first time, do it during the day for short periods.
  • Work out a set of ‘home alone' rules with your child.
  • Make sure your child knows what they need to do in an emergency and has a list of contacts including those of safe neighbours.

Leaving children in cars

Leaving a young child unsupervised in a car at any time is very dangerous. Never leave babies or young children alone in a car, even to run a quick errand.

Children can get bored and start to explore, potentially leading to danger. They can try to struggle free from seatbelt restraints and be injured. The car could be stolen with a child in it.

Even in mild weather, cars quickly become too hot for small children. It can be 20 to 30 degrees hotter inside a car than the temperature outside. Children are more at risk from heat-related problems because their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult's, and they can lose fluid very quickly. They become dehydrated, leading to heat stroke, organ damage and potentially death.

The Victorian Government in partnership with Kidsafe has launched an awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of leaving children unattended in cars.

Help to decide

Parentline Victoria is a telephone counselling service provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development that can help parents with these kinds of decisions. Parents can also find links to information on the Parentline website to help them decide whether their child is ready to be left at home alone.

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