The charity has seen a 21% rise in people contacting them with concerns for children over the school holidays last summer
As schools break up for the summer, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children urges parents to think through leaving their children home alone. Calls to the NSPCC helpline increased 21% last summer as concerned neighbours unsure of what to do reported young children being left alone overnight, left to feed themselves and use kitchen equipment and even looking concerningly dirty and unkempt.
A concerned relative told the helpline: “I’m aware in the past my teenage grandson has been left home alone in the daytime and evenings while his mum goes out. At the moment, he’s being left home alone every day. He doesn’t have any friends or family in the new town so all he can do is play on his game station all day. The last time I saw him he looked really unhappy.”
There isn’t a legal minimum age at which children can be left on their own; however, parents and carers can be prosecuted for cruelty to a child, which includes neglect, abandonment and failure to protect, if children are at risk of injury or suffering.
Our helpline saw a 21% increase in contacts about children being left home alone last summer. That’s why if you’re wondering whether you can leave your child home alone this summer, we’re here to help 👇. pic.twitter.com/uNzVWHinA7— NSPCC (@NSPCC) July 26, 2019
Louise Exton, NSPCC helpline manager said: “Summer holidays can be a fun time for children but it is also when they are more likely to be left home alone as parents face increasing childcare pressures. Childcare is the biggest cost for families after housing, which could explain why we see a spike in calls to our helpline during these months.
“Leaving your child home alone can be a difficult decision as children mature at different ages – there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. Parents are best placed to know what is right for their child so it’s vital there is flexibility for them to decide, but we would urge them to think carefully and use their common sense when deciding if their child could cope.”
The NSPCC have issued the following guidance to help parents and carers decide when to leave children 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 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 at home alone.
- A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with it, 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 charity is also encouraging parents to use the start of the summer holidays to remind their children about staying safe online, as inevitably they will be gaming and using their mobiles a lot more. If children are going to be left home alone and using online devices it is important for parents to explore their online world together, and put boundaries in place.
If parents are not sure where to start in protecting their children online, they can call the O2 and NSPCC online safety advice line on 0808 800 5002 for free expert advice on setting up parental controls, adjusting privacy settings or using social networks, or visit https://www.net-aware.org.uk/.
The NSPCC’s helpline is available seven days a week on 0808 800 5000 for free and confidential advice. The free helpline provides adults with a place they can get advice and support, share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection. Adults can contact the helpline seven days a week or visit www.nspcc.org.uk.