Child Safety

Is It Ever Safe To Leave Your Children?

The highly publicized disappearance of Madeleine McCann(pictured, right) in Portugal has raised the question: Is it ever safe to leave you child?

It has been reported that Madeleine’s parents would leave her and her twin siblings in the hotel room while they slept, checking in on them every half an hour. The kidnappers may have noticed that there was a nightly routine and targeted this family because it would be easy to abduct her when her parents were out.

Busy parents know that you are constantly faced with the decision whether or not to leave your child in the car for a few minutes while you run in and quickly grab a few groceries. Since reporting on the Loic JM Rogers story, where his father left him in the car while he ran into his parents house to get another sibling and the boy disappeared, the thought doesn’t cross my mind.

When we went on vacation in February, many people told us to leave our son(18months) in the cabin at night and check on him regularly so that we could tour around the ship and gamble if we wanted to. It just wasn’t an option for me. The thought of him waking up and us not being there, the cabin steward entering our cabin and possibly being alone with our son or something happening to the ship and us not being able to get back to him plagued me leaving us to take turns going out at night.

The Daily Mail has the legal side of this issue with situations, consequences and advice.

You have three children under seven who are all napping in the car when you arrive at the supermarket. Rather than wake them up, you leave them asleep in the car while you shop for 20 minutes. The doors are unlocked to avoid their movements triggering the car alarm.

LAWYER’S VERDICT: Director of the Children’s Legal Centre at the University of Essex, Professor Carolyn Hamilton says –

Legally, it is an offence under Section One of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to neglect or abandon a child under the age of 16 for whom a parent or carer has responsibility, and this covers all the scenarios here.

But the law gives no clarification as to what amounts to neglect or abandonment. Prosecution would depend largely on the circumstances, but the punishment for a conviction could be a fine or up to ten years’ imprisonment.

In every case the parent needs to take into account the age and maturity of the child. In a car, for instance, a child of seven might be able to release the handbreak or get out of the car.

If the doors on the car were locked then the children might be safer; but they could become distressed if they woke up and found they were trapped in an enclosed space.

Technically, children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone in these circumstances. A few minutes left in a locked car might be acceptable – for instance at a corner shop or petrol station. Twenty minutes with the doors undone is too long. I would not advise parents to leave a child under 16 alone in these circumstances.

Your children, aged ten and seven, have asked if they can play in a park ten minutes away on a summer’s evening. You’re frantically preparing dinner and agree – as long as they are home in 45 minutes at 6pm


Professor Hamilton says: When ten-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman disappeared on a summer’s evening in August 2002, there were no suggestions from the public or media that they shouldn’t have been wandering around alone. Their parents deemed that they lived in a safe area with good community spirit and that there were no immediate dangers to the girls’ safety.

No one can make allowances for such tragic events and we can’t wrap our children in cotton wool or they would never learn how to take care of themselves.

There is no distinction in law between a child at home and a child going out to play. In theory, both should be supervised or at least safety precautions taken. Parents wouldn’t be prosecuted if their children came to harm outdoors unless it was deemed they hadn’t taken care of their safety or well-being. If a three-year-old was allowed to wander the streets alone, that would be unacceptable and a different matter in the eyes of the law. If your children want to go off and play close by, make sure you know exactly where they are going and who they will be with, then give them a time by which they must be home. It’s not advisable to let children any younger than ten go to parks on their own where there are swings, slides and other equipment that could do them harm if they aren’t supervised properly.

If parents left children outside for the evening while they went to the pub, and the children were unsupervised, or got cold, wet and were not fed, that would be a matter of concern.

I may be more paranoid that the average parent because I read a TON of disturbing stories everyday while looking for good stories to post here, but I wouldn’t recommend either scenario. It just takes a moment for someone to see your child in an unlocked car or playing at the park to get an idea to abduct them.

Resist the ‘easy’ route and go with them to the park or bring them into the grocery store – even if they are going to act like animals that have never been fed before and ask for everything they see.

At the end of the day, you may have less time for yourself, but at least you know that you will be tucking your angels into bed, which is something that Madeleine’s mom wishes whe was doing tonight.


About the author

Lisa Arneill

Mom of 2 boys and founder of and World Traveled Family. When I'm not running around after my boys, I'm looking for our next vacation spot!

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