The charity said last August its helpline made referrals to the police or social services about 849 children due to concerns about them being left unsupervised by their parent or carer and, as a result, being unsafe. Of these, one third were aged five and under.
One person who called the helpline said they had noticed their neighbour’s children were being left alone for long periods of time. “They are primary school age so they do not appear to be mature enough to be left alone,” they told the NSPCC. “I have seen them behave in unsafe ways and I heard them fighting when they were alone and I was worried.”
There is no legal age limit for when you can leave your child alone, but parents and carers could be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone.
The charity said parents and carers should think carefully about whether a child is responsible enough to be left alone without supervision. For example, could they cope with unexpected situations such as an emergency, a stranger calling at the house, being hungry or if the parent is away for longer than anticipated?
Issuing some straightforward advice, the NSPCC said babies, toddlers and very young children should never under any circumstances be left alone - even for a small amount of time. Children under the age of 12 are “rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency”, a spokesperson said, so they shouldn’t be left alone for a long period of time, and those aged 16 and under should not be left alone overnight.
Other factors to consider:
:: 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?
Between 2017 and 2018 there were 7,277 children referred to authorities due to concerns about them being left to fend for themselves, with the problem being most acute in August during the summer break.
Chris Cloke, NSPCC’s head of safeguarding in communities, said: “It can be difficult for parents and carers to decide whether their child is ready to be left on their own and we know that the summer holidays can be a tricky time as people face increasing childcare pressures.
“However, it is still very concerning that we are consistently seeing a spike in August of referrals to social services and the police due to worries about children being left unsupervised. No child should be left on their own if there is any risk they will come to harm.”
If you are concerned about a child’s welfare, the NSPCC’s helpline is available 24/7 on 0808 800 5000 for free and confidential advice.