Rising reports of children being left home alone during school holidays

As schools break up, we're urging parents and carers to think carefully about leaving children on their own

Young boy with teddy bear, sitting on bedWe received 5,737 calls and emails to our helpline over the last year from adults concerned about young children being left home alone unsupervised.1

Nearly a third of those calls and emails were made from July to September, when children are on their summer holidays.2 This was a 21 per cent increase in the number of contacts compared to last summer.3

There is no legal minimum age at which children can be left on their own, but parents and carers can be prosecuted for cruelty to a child if they are put at risk of suffering or injury.


Tips for parents and carers

Would your child be able to cope if something unexpected or scary happened? To help you decide whether or not to leave your child on their own for the first time this summer, follow our tips.

  • 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?

70 per cent of calls made to our helpline were serious enough to be referred to the police and social services, with reports ranging from children being left alone overnight, young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment, and siblings fighting over iPads and games.4

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.”

Concerned about a child left home alone?

Contact our free helpline for advice and support. You can share your concerns about a child or get general information about child protection. Adults can contact the helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0808 800 5000, by texting 88858 or visiting www.nspcc.org.uk

Louise Exton, NSPCC helpline manager said: "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."

NSPCC press office

Contact our national and regional press offices for enquiries about our work or to request interviews.

Contact our press office

More information and advice

Home alone

This guide to keeping your child safe at home answers questions about when your children can be left on their own.
Advice on leaving a child alone

Share Aware

Just like in real life, kids need your help to stay safe online. Our advice will help you keep your child safe on social networks, apps and games.
Be Share Aware

Staying safe away from home

Your guide to when your child's old enough to be out on their own, and how to teach them to keep safe while they're away
Keeping children safe away from home

References

  1. 1. In 2018/19 there were a total of 5,737 contacts about a child that was left alone/unsupervised.

  2. 2. From the total amount of contacts in 2018/19 about children left unsupervised (5,737), 1,824 were in July - September 2018, which is 32% of all contacts about children left home alone.

  3. 3. In 2018/19, the NSPCC helpline received 1,824 contacts to the NSPCC helpline during July, August and September 2018 about children left unsupervised. In 2017/18 the NSPCC helpline received 1,511 contacts during July, August and September 2017 about the same issue. Resulting in a 21 per cent increase.

  4. 4. 1,274 out of 1,824 contacts (70%) about children left unsupervised in summer 2018 were referred to police or social services.