There has been a huge amount of interest surrounding reports that Surrey Heath MP (and former Justice Secretary) Michael Gove, and his wife, Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, left their 11-year-old son alone at a Bed and Breakfast, whilst they went out to a party after the Cheltenham Literary Festival.
Headlines like “Michael Gove left son, 11, alone in hotel for six HOURS while he went to showbiz party” and tweets from other party-goers about Gove’s dancing at the event have done little to calm the frenzy.
But a friend of the Gove family told the BBC that the whole scenario was more or less a storm in a teacup, saying:
“[Their son] wanted to watch TV rather than go to a dinner with his parents. He’s a mature and confident secondary school pupil so they were happy to leave him at the hotel under the supervision of staff.”
However, other reports claim that the boy was wandering the B&B’s corridors and asking a porter when his mum and dad would be back – and that it was 1.30 before they did return, despite allegedly telling the hotel staff they would be arriving around 9.30pm.
So… it’s not really very clear what actually happened.
And although someone connected to the hotel claims that phone calls to tell Mr and Mrs Gove that their son was looking for them were either disconnected or not going through, the family friend was adamant that “the dinner was at a sister hotel so staff could have easily passed messages if there were any issues. He was totally fine and there were no problems.”
So while it does seem like it has all been slightly blown out of all proportion for the sake of a story, it does open up a very important debate – one that will affect all parents at some point.
Just when is it OK to leave your kids on their own?
The legal side of it is all a bit grey – while it is not against the law to leave a child unattended, parents must not do so in a way that leaves the child neglected or abandoned or “in a manner likely to cause [them] unnecessary suffering or injury to health”.
At the end of the day, does it just come down to parents knowing if their kids are mature enough to handle being left alone?
Of course, that in itself can be unchartered waters and something of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question – and one the NSPCC spokesperson told the BBC it raises a “whole host of things to think about”.
“Parents need to consider whether a child would know what to do if something went wrong, and talk to their child and see if they are comfortable and confident about being left by themselves,” the rep said.
As a result, the NSPCC also advised that children under 12 should not be left at home alone for a long period of time because they are “rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency” and that children under the age of 16 shouldn’t be left overnight.
What do you think?
Would you happily leave your senior-school age child in a hotel room for the evening, knowing that there would be staff on hand in an emergency?
Or do you think that at 11, babysitters should still be used, or the child brought along to the event?
Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.