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Caroline Watson warns parents - beware of leaving children home alone

A mother who left her 14 year old son to look after his three year old brother while she popped out to the shops has been given a police caution for cruelty. The mother has also been suspended from her job as the caution was revealed under Criminal Record Bureau checks and will automatically bar her from working with children for 10 years.

The law in this area is grey and left open to interpretation. There is no minimum age at which children can be left on their own, nor does the law specify how old someone needs to be to babysit. However, if a babysitter is under 16, then the parent remains legally responsible for the child's safety. Under the Children and Young Persons Act, parents can be prosecuted for wilful neglect if they leave a child unsupervised "in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health". Punishment ranges from a fine to 10 years' imprisonment. The NSPCC advises that no child under 14 should be left home alone and no child under 16 should care for someone younger than themselves.

Separating couples may be particularly vulnerable as they can suddenly find themselves without the support of the other parent. The family courts may also now find a surge of parents already caught up in bitter contact disputes making allegations of wilful neglect. There is a call for the law to give proper guidance on this issue but until such time as this happens this case is a stark warning to parents.