Leaving five children, ranging in age from eight-years to five-months, unsupervised in a vehicle in a casino carpark for 45 minutes is clearly not okay. That decision represents a massive parenting fail. Yet the whole notion of when exactly it is acceptable to leave children unattended is an interesting one.

At some stage of the parenting journey there are the same dilemmas for many people. When can you leave your children at home unsupervised? At what age should they be allowed to walk to school alone? Is it safe to leave them in the car? And when are children permitted to babysit other children?

There's a common misconception that, while the law allows children aged 14 or over to babysit other children, there's no specification of what age a child may lawfully be left at home alone. In fact, it is against the law to leave children under 14 without making reasonable provision for their care and supervision.

The Child, Youth and Family (CYF) site says: "What is considered 'reasonable' takes into account the circumstances in which children are left alone and the length of time they are alone. Parents are required to assess all the circumstances and make sure that any child left alone, or in the care of another child or young person, is safe and not in danger."


Having witnessed conversations - okay, having lurked in discussions on message-board threads - debating various scenarios, it seems everyone has their own different yardstick, their own threshold, for deciding when to leave their young children unsupervised either at home or in the car.

One mother with several children leaves them in the car at the service station when she goes in to pay for petrol; her rationale is it's safer than herding the children across the station forecourt. I've heard of another mother who left her sick toddler home while she did a kindergarten pick-up on a rainy day. Others are happy to leave a child at home if a neighbour knows they're there. And in some circles it's acceptable to leave your children at home while you pop to the dairy for an essential item: in such cases, milk is fine, wine is not. There are ethical dilemmas within ethical dilemmas it seems.

As an aside, I still can't understand why a child considered too young to be left at home unattended is allowed to walk to school without an adult. I'd have thought the streets are meaner and potentially more dangerous than a well managed, well fenced home. The logic of that one evades me.

Of course, in the situations mentioned above, everything is fine until something unscripted happens - until a child starts a fire with the car cigarette lighter, until an intruder breaks into the home, until earthquake strikes, until someone steals the car. And then this harmless, well argued scenario takes on the proportions of a nightmare.

There have been many reports of cars being stolen with babies and children inside. I recall one incident in Australia in which a baby died from overheating after the car was abandoned and another in the US when a boy was dragged by his seatbelt after a vehicle was stolen from a petrol station.

I'm not sure how much luck the local parents of five had gambling at SkyCity casino last week but they were certainly lucky that it was a responsible citizen who discovered their children in the carpark rather than someone with criminal intentions. Judging by all the concerned parties - the casino management, security, police and CYF - maybe sometimes it really does take a village to raise a child.