I was invited onto the BBC5Live breakfast show yesterday morning to discuss a disturbing report in the Sunday Times about a woman who'd left her fourteen-year-old daughter babysitting. Details were scarce, but the unnamed woman had received a police caution for her actions, which subsequently led to her being suspended from her job.
In the event, the radio item didn't happen. There was some 'news' apparently, which - as far as I could make out - involved talking at length about Fernando Torres. But no matter. What 5Live leave, I'll gladly take up. So here's the gist of what I'd have said.
First is the fact that we never seem to get this right in the UK. The 'authorities' seem at times to indulge abusive parents to the point of serious injury and death - as in the case of Baby Peter and many more - while appearing to take a sledgehammer to the easy, middle-class nut. The woman in the article had left her children alone for just thirty minutes. Sources 'close to the family' reported there'd been no incident and that the children hadn't been in any kind of danger. You'd think, perhaps, that the Police might have better things to do. And therein, as Shakespeare said, lies the rub. Because it's fairly obvious that complicated, multi-agency cases like the headline childcare tragedies are hard work, untidy, difficult to close. How much easier, then, instead of catching proper criminals to make your own by having a go at a hard-working mum. It's an open-and-shut case. And it must make the targets easier to meet.
Before going any further, I should point out that I'm emphatically not advocating the wanton abandonment of the nation's children to a host of under-age babysitters. There are guidelines, apparently, but the law is by no means clear. The police acted in this case because they assumed neglect; without the facts who are we to say otherwise? But - to put my cards on the table - I'm happy to leave my own daughter looking after Charlie on occasion, happier in fact that I'd be leaving him with some so-called adults. It's a balanced judgement, and - as parents - it's our duty to make that judgement call responsibly. Our duty, not that of the nanny state.
But what do you think? Is there an 'age' below which no child should be left alone? Or does it depend on the child? And the parents? Were the Police right to intervene in this case? And why does it always seem to be the case that 'innocent' hard-working people so frequently fall foul of the law while the professional criminal classes seem to get away with it?