What the law says
In New Zealand, it's against the law to leave tamariki under 14 without making reasonable provision for their care and supervision.
The police need to prove the circumstances surrounding a parent or caregiver leaving a tamaiti unsupervised were unreasonable. Parents, guardians and caregivers can be fined a maximum of $2000 if they leave tamariki under the age of 14 years unsupervised at home or in another place.
Assessing appropriate levels of supervision
Parents or caregivers should always have an idea of where their tamariki are and what they’re up to. Depending on how whānau or family operate, caring for tamariki can be considered a collective responsibility. Older siblings or cousins are sometimes expected to be responsible for playing with or keeping an eye on the younger members of their whānau or family. At whānau or family gatherings or church, community or marae events, during the school holidays, and before and after school, tamariki can often play or explore their environment independently from adults.
Assessing supervisory neglect depends on many factors and doesn’t solely rely on the chronological age of 14. We need to take a commonsense approach within the context of the whānau or family lifestyle. It is reasonable to expect that tamariki living in a rural setting will have different expectations than a tamaiti living in an urban area. Our assessment needs to consider whether the parent or caregiver has considered individual and environmental factors such as:
- age and maturity levels of tamariki, including any disabilities
- how long they were left unsupervised and how te tamaiti feels about being on their own
- how often this occurs
- what discussions were had to manage emergencies, and whether they know how and who they can contact for help
- what prearranged agreements were explored to cover ‘just in case’ situations – for example, ‘if you’re hungry, snacks are in the cupboard but don’t use the oven’ or ‘don’t pat or approach dogs in the park’
- whether potential risks or hazards have been considered, such as busy roads, waterways, and how well known or safe the people in the neighborhood are.
It could be considered neglect if tamariki are wandering the neighborhood with no set time to return or no one is at home to care or notice they are away.
Accidents that occur when tamariki are not supervised are not necessarily neglectful or evidence of abuse if our assessment identifies all reasonable provisions were made to keep them safe.
Rangatahi aged 14 or over often babysit younger tamariki – this includes older siblings or cousins caring for younger relatives.
Parents and caregivers need to be sure that babysitters have the knowledge and maturity to cope with physical emergencies (like fire or injury) and emotional distress or challenging behaviour in the tamariki they are caring for.
Parents and caregivers should ask themselves the following questions:
- Is the babysitter sufficiently mature and responsible to look after younger tamariki?
- Does the babysitter feel happy and confident about being left?
- How long is a reasonable amount of time?
- Is the babysitter aware of the risks and safety issues that might arise, and do they think they can handle them?
- Are there any areas they would struggle with?
- Is there anyone close by who could help them if they need it? Does the babysitter know how to contact this person urgently if there is a need?
- Is that person available at the time required?