Children left at home alone: the construction of a social problem

Calcraft, Rebecca (2004) Children left at home alone: the construction of a social problem. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The question of when a child is old enough to be left at home alone, and under what circumstances, is a dilemma faced by many parents and professionals. Adopting a social constructionist perspective of social problems, this thesis explores professional perceptions and policy responses to the issue of children left at home alone since the passing of the Children Act in 1989. The law in England and Wales does not specify an age at which it is deemed safe to leave a child unsupervised at home, a practice sometimes referred to as 'self-care'. Professionals respond to the issue through non-legalistic, more persuasive interventions. The media also plays a role in regulating parenting practices, as demonstrated in the early 1990s, when the British press covered a number of stories involving parents who left their children at 'home alone'. The issue continues to bubble up from time to time, but calls for more specific law to manage the problem have gone unheeded.

Drawing on interviews with child welfare professionals and campaigners who work at national level, and on an analysis of policy, campaigning and educational documents, I explore how the issue is constructed, responded to and resisted as a social problem. I conclude that this is an example of an 'unconstructed' social problem because, despite continued public and professional concern, there has been no clear legislative response. Understanding how and why some social problems 'fail' is a key contribution to the literature on the social construction of social problems, which has focused mainly on 'successful' social problems to date.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Murphy, Elizabeth
Aldridge, Meryl
Keywords: home alone, children, parents, professionals, policy, social problems, social constructionism
Subjects: H Social sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 10063
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2004
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2017 11:28

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