There is no law which states the minimum age that a child can be left alone but it is an offence to leave a child alone when doing so puts the child at risk. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) recommend that most children under 13 should not be left for more than a short period and that no child under 16 should be left overnight. They suggest that parents consider the following before deciding to leave a child alone:
- the age of the child
- the child's level of maturity and understanding
- the place where the child will be left
- how long the child will be left alone, and how often
- whether or not there are any other children in the household.
Further advice on good practices when leaving children alone can be obtained from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) or by ringing the NSPCC helpline on 0800 800 5000.
As babysitters are not "registered" and there are no regulations to govern this type of childcare, we do not hold lists of people. However, we do hold lists of registered childminders and some childminders may be willing to do some evening or weekend babysitting. Parents may also wish to find a sitter by asking a friend or a relative with children for a recommendation or by looking in the Yellow Pages or searching the web for babysitting agencies. Should you use a babysitting agency, it is important that you are clear as to how they vet their sitters. For example, do they interview and take up references and do they complete a Criminal Records Bureau check?
Both the NSPCC and the RoSPA recommend that babysitters should be over 16 years of age and that parents ask for at least two references and contact the referees themselves. RoSPA also suggest that parents complete "risk assessments" and think through all possible eventualities before leaving their children with a babysitter.