So just old is the ‘home alone’ age?
- Credit: PA
Rachel Moore on the school holiday problem for working parents everywhere: what to do with the kids...
School's out tomorrow for six long weeks.
Children – and the teachers – will skip out of the gates at 3pm into dreams of care-free downtime bathed in dawn to dusk sunshine stretching ahead until September.
Parents, on the other hand, have been collapsed, heads in their hands, for weeks agonising about how the summer is ever going to work. Again.
I've seen charts that challenge the most intricate Cabinet War Rooms stuck on kitchen walls, pulling in every resource parents can think of, splitting their own work leave, plotting who is looking after who and when.
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One wrong move and the plans collapse like dominoes and one parent has to make the excuse again to their boss that they won't be in that day because they've been let down by childcare.
Who has the children in the summer holidays is one long painful headache for parents with jobs out of the house, with stress and panic rising from May onwards.
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Plans have to be in place early. Holiday club places are as hot property as Adele tour tickets.
Childcare can be cripplingly expensive, and not everyone has willing grannies on standby, or grandparents living anywhere near.
Mothers have been known to cry on friends' doorsteps, small children in tow, begging them to step in to care to them after they've been let down at the last minute and just can't have another warning at work.
Once the enduring juggling act of sorting care for small children is over, the issue starts about what to do with your 12-year-old who insists he's too old to be 'babysat' but is not old enough to be left home alone.
Then the real battle begins. Your 13-year-old just wants to hang out at home alone; you're terrified she's not old enough, responsible enough or capable of handling any emergency.
She refuses point-blank to be treated like a baby. It's a stand-off and you have to be at work in 30 minutes.
This sets off your 10-year-old. If she can stay at home, why can't he?
Faced with a disciplinary at work and tears and tantrums at home or backing down and making a run for it, you risk it.
Give in and let them have their way, and then worry for nine hours about all that could be going wrong at home. And children never answer their phones to their parents or texts.
Last summer holidays, the NSPCC received record numbers of calls and emails about children being left alone.
Nearly 1,300 calls were made to the NSPCC last summer – up from 949 the previous year. This week, the charity is urging parents to think carefully about whether their child should be left home alone.
Many parents are on zero hours contracts. Work comes as and when making it impossible to plan.
But 'latch-key kids' is not a new thing.
Nearly 30 years ago, a friend told me that when he was growing up in a Manchester tower block, his mother, a lone parent, had three jobs and would tell him and his brother to stay locked in the flat and never answer the door when she was at her evening cleaning job.
The real problem is that there's no law to wave in the face of a 13-year-old, which is bizarre in a nation so quick to legislate and slap on bans.
Having the law on their side is a gamechanger for any parent in a showdown with a teenager. 'It's not me saying it, it's the law' is the perfect weapon in the long landmine-strewn path of parenting.
Although, despite no minimum age at which a child can be left at alone, parents can still be prosecuted for neglect if a child is at risk of suffering and injury, so it's clearly down to interpretation.
The NSPCC say children should never be left on their own if there is any risk they will come to harm, which is kind of stating the obvious and no help whatsoever.
I know 22-year-olds who couldn't be trusted not to burn the house down and capable responsible 13-year-olds perfectly equipped to look after themselves.
That's the issue. It's subjective and feels a bit like Russian roulette. When is responsible, responsible enough?
Just give parents a break and clarity to solve the murky perennial problem and angry summer rows.
How about aligning home-alone ages with part-time jobs? If they're old enough for a paper round, they're old enough to be left in charge of a toaster.