Parents urged to “think carefully” about leaving children home alone

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Wednesday, July 31st, 2019
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The NSPCC has urged parents to think carefully before leaving their children unsupervised during the school holidays, after seeing a 21 per cent rise in contacts across the UK about the issue last summer.

As the summer holidays continue for pupils in Northern Ireland, the child protection charity has revealed specialist practitioners on its helpline received 5,737 calls and emails from across the UK in 2018/19 from adults concerned about youngsters being left home alone.

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Nearly a third of those calls and emails were between the summer months of July to September when children are away from school for at least six weeks.

 

 

While some of the 1,824 contacts to the NSPCC helpline from across the UK in summer 2018 were from adults simply seeking advice on when it is appropriate to leave children unattended, a worrying 70 per cent of those contacts were judged so serious by the NSPCC they were passed on to police or social services.

Across 2018/19, the NSPCC helpline made 84 referrals to agencies based in Northern Ireland such as police or social services from individuals who were concerned about a child that was left alone/unsupervised.

Worried callers reported children being left alone overnight, young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment and siblings fighting over iPads and games.

 

 

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.”

Although the law does not give a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents and carers can be prosecuted for cruelty to a child, which includes neglect, abandonment and failure to protect, if children are put at risk of suffering or injury. 

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,” she added.

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?

 

 

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