Children home alone
There is no legal age limit for leaving a child on their own, but it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk. Parents can be prosecuted for neglect if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’ (Children and Young Person’s Act). Constantly leaving a child alone is classed as neglect, which is a form of child abuse.
Parents therefore need to give careful thought to the following before they leave their child alone:
- Ages of children, and their levels of maturity and understanding
- How long they would be left
- Time of day
- If there are contact numbers in case of emergency
- Do the children know what to do in an emergency? Do they know how to make a phone call?
- Do the phones work? Are mobiles charged and have credit?
- Is there a neighbour watching?
- Are there other relations who can be contacted?
The NSPCC also gives the following advice:
- If possible, leave a telephone number where you can be contacted, and be available to answer it immediately.
- Talk to your child about keeping safe at home and point out the potential dangers. Tell them not to answer the door to strangers.
- Give clear instructions about what to do if there's an emergency. All children left alone should be able to phone the emergency services.
- Leave a list of trusted people they can contact.
- Put obvious dangers out of reach of children, eg medicines, chemicals, matches, etc.
- Make sure that the child is happy about the arrangements and confident about being left.
- Tell the child when you'll be back, and make sure you're back on time.
- Talk to him or her about it afterwards.
Parents should be advised that if a member of the public rings to report a child home alone, they will be referred to the Police who have powers of entry if necessary.
There is further advice and information on the gov.uk and NSPCC websites. There is also an NSPCC leaflet which summarises their advice.