Life

Is it ever acceptable to leave children home alone?

Finding childcare over the summer holidays can be difficult and expensive, but the NSPCC warns parents to think very carefully about leaving kids at home on their own

Parents should use common sense when deciding if their child could cope, according to the NSPCC

THE school holidays can be a childcare nightmare for parents, particularly those who work, and it can sometimes be tempting to leave children home alone.

But the NSPCC is urging parents to think carefully before leaving their children at home without supervision during the summer holidays, as it could leave them at risk of accident or injury.

The charity's helpline received 453 calls and emails between July and September last year from adults concerned about youngsters being left unattended. Of these, more than three quarters (366) were so serious they were passed to police or social services.

Throughout last year, the helpline received 1,729 calls and emails from adults concerned about children being left to fend for themselves, with more than half of those referred to police or social services being calls about children aged under 10 years.

The NSPCC's ChildLine service also delivered 273 counselling sessions to children and young people last year who were worried about being left home alone.

Peter Wanless, the NSPCC's chief executive, explains that the law doesn't give a minimum age for leaving children alone at home, but it's against the law if it puts them at risk.

He says: "Summer holidays can be fun 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's 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."

He suggests parents ask children how they feel about being left alone and talk to them about what to do in an emergency, and adds: "Parents are best placed to know what's right for their child, so it's vital there's flexibility for them to decide."

NSPCC advice on leaving a child home 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 shouldn't be left at home alone for long periods.

:: Children under the age of 16 shouldn't be left alone overnight.

:: Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it's judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone.

:: A child should never be left at home alone if they don't 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?

The NSPCC suggests parents should consider the following questions before deciding to leave a child unattended:

:: Does your child seem to be responsible and mature for their age and always do what you tell them?

:: Would they be able to make themselves something to eat and drink and would you be happy with them using the cooker or microwave?

:: Can you imagine how they'd cope in an emergency like a power cut or a flooded bathroom?

:: Would they know what to do if the phone rang or someone came to the door?

:: Would they know how to contact you or another family member or friend if they needed to? Do they have these contact numbers to hand?

:: How would they feel about being left alone – pleased to be given the responsibility or scared at the thought of it?

:: For more information about leaving children home alone, visit tiny.cc/NSPCChomealone

Adults can contact the NSPCC helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000, and children can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111, or visit www.childline.org.uk

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