Education & Family

NSPCC issues warning over leaving children home alone

girl in kitchen Image copyright David Sacks

As schools break up for the holidays, a children's charity is urging parents to think carefully before leaving children home alone over the summer.

The NSPCC says last summer its helpline received 453 calls and emails from adults concerned about youngsters being left unattended during the holidays.

More than three-quarters - 366 - were serious enough for information to be passed to police or social services.

The law does not specify an age at which children can be left unattended.

However, laws in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland say children must not be neglected or abandoned "in a manner likely to cause [them] unnecessary suffering or injury to health".

The NSPCC says leaving children at home without adult supervision puts them at greater risk of accident or injury.

The charity offers the following advice for parents deciding whether it is appropriate to leave a child alone:

  • Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
  • Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time
  • Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight
  • Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them alone at home
  • A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, regardless of their age
  • If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling
  • When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?

Callers' concerns

One woman who called the NSPCC 24-hour helpline said: "I'm really worried about a young girl who's been in the house by herself for a whole day now.

"This has been going on for months but I felt as if I couldn't say anything as I'm related to them and I didn't want to compromise our relationship. But I just can't keep quiet anymore."

Another caller said: "I have had these concerns for a while but I am only reporting it now because it seems to have got worse over the summer holidays.

"I keep seeing this child at home alone whilst his mum goes out all day. I haven't really wanted to get involved but I feel like I have to because what's happening is wrong."

Another said: "I'm worried about some children who live nearby and are left alone all day. I feel sorry for the mum because she's working full-time. She used to have a babysitter for them but even she's stopped coming around.

"Sometimes I pop over to check up on the children but they don't always open the door to me even though I can hear them inside. I'm worried something dangerous could happen to them while their mum's at work. It makes me really sad."

Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC said: "Summer holidays can be a fun time for children but it's also when they are more likely to be left home alone as parents face increasing childcare pressures.

"Leaving your child home alone can be a difficult decision as children mature at different ages - there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

"But it could put them at greater risk of accident or injury. So I would urge parents to use their common sense when deciding if their child could cope.

"They should also ask them how they feel about being left alone and talk to them about what to do in an emergency. Parents are best placed to know what is right for their child so it vital there is flexibility for them to decide."

Image copyright alexx60

The NSPCC's warning comes as a survey by the Family and Childcare Trust finds that parents in Britain pay an average of £120 per child a week for holiday childcare.

The Trust's annual Holiday Childcare Survey also found there are not enough places to meet demand, with 88% of local authorities in England, 78% in Scotland and all in Wales reporting that they do not have enough holiday childcare places.

The NSPCC's 24-hour helpline offers adults advice and support if they have concerns about a child on 0808 800 5000 or by texting 88858. Its separate 24-hour ChildLine service provides a safe, confidential place for children to talk on 0800 1111.

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