Despite declining crime rates in most Western societies, parenting experts say anxiety around children’s safety has never been higher. The term “nanny state” is no longer just metaphorical: in Victoria this week, penalties for leaving children under 16 unattended are set to increase, with the government proposing a doubling of the maximum jail sentence, from three to six months. Fines will increase by two-thirds, to $3690.

Though triggered by a rise in ambulance call-outs for young children left in cars, the penalties have a wider application for kids and teens left at home, walking the streets alone or catching public transport unsupervised. A spokeswoman for the Minister for Children and Childhood Development, Wendy Lovell, says the offence of “leaving a child without adequate supervision for an unreasonable amount of time, without making reasonable provisions for the child” is determined on a “case by case basis and subject to individual circumstances”.

Between January 2010 and December 2012, 76 people were sentenced for leaving children unattended, according to the department. The spokeswoman was unable to break down the figures by context.

So what are parents to think – and do?

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