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Is it illegal to let your kids walk to school alone?

child walking alone from schoolQueensland Police have had to clarify the legalities surrounding letting children walk to school alone after an old school newsletter article warning parents of possible imprisonment recently resurfaced. The article went viral on Facebook and recently reappeared in feeds with some strong criticism from parents.

When the post spread, many parents were outraged, recalling their own childhoods when they were free to roam. Some pointed out that often parents have to go to work early, meaning that their children have no other way to get to school.

The letter warned parents that police had noticed “a number of children under the age of 12 walking or riding to school without any proper supervision”. It then quoted the Criminal Code of Queensland section 364A that “A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum Penalty – 3 years imprisonment.”

The article was written by the officer-in-charge of Miles Police about six months after a 6-year-old girl was found walking alone, with a hand-written map to follow to a location “some distance away” that she had never been to before.

In that instance a 33-year-old woman was charged with one count of leaving a child under 12 unattended, under the law mentioned above.

article from queensland police that went viral

The letter originated in a school newsletter on the Darling Downs town of Miles in 2015.

So, how long is too long to leave a child unattended?

The short answer is ’well, it depends’… Every case is different and circumstances have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Whether the amount of time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

With no federal laws in place about leaving children unsupervised, there is a lot open to interpretation. State laws that require children to have ‘Reasonable Supervision’ but what constitutes ‘reasonable’ hasn’t been specified.

What exactly are the circumstances taken into consideration?
The circumstances that the court considers would be:

  • Their age of the child and their maturity level
  • How far the child was travelling
  • How well did the child know the particular route? For example, to teach the child independence, the parent may have walked or ridden this route with he child for two years before allowing them to do it alone
  • How much time would the child be alone for. Was the child leaving home at 8.00am to arrive at school shortly after and be under the supervision of the school or were they leaving home a 6.00am to be unsupervised for a much longer period of time.

What are the laws like in other states?
The laws around leaving children unattended vary from state to state.

In Victoria you’ll find “offence to leave child unattended” under section 494 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005:

“A person who has the control or charge of a child must not leave the child without making reasonable provision for the child’s supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.”

This sounds rather similar to Queensland’s law, but the punishment down south is a fine of approximately $2,300 (15 penalty units) — or imprisonment for three months.

According to Family and Community Services New South Wales, there is no actual law that states at what age children can be left alone, but the law is very clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children.

If you have any questions about parental responsibilities or family law matters, our team of legal experts can help you.

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