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Why Parents Should Think Carefully Before Leaving Children Home Alone

21/07/2016 09:32 | Updated 21 July 2016
Klaus Tiedge via Getty Images

Most children will be looking forward to the school summer holidays excited by the thought of long days of fun ahead. But for parents work doesn't stop during the holidays and finding childcare for the extended break can be difficult for some.

Increased childcare pressures could be one of the reasons we see a spike in calls to our helpline about children left home alone at this time of year. Our helpline received 453 calls and emails between last July and September from adults concerned about this problem. And we anticipate it will be the same this year.

These calls may be from family friends or relatives or even worried neighbours may have noticed a child or children they know that are left alone while parents go to work. We also receive calls from parents looking for advice about how to decide if their child is old enough to be left by themselves.

So when is it ok to leave your child at home alone? How old do they need to be to be able to cope? And what does the law say on this?

The law provides some guidance but does not provide a legal age at which children may be left home alone. But parents can be prosecuted for neglect if leaving them unattended puts them at risk of harm.

Every child is different and the rate at which they mature varies so it would be almost impossible to come up with a 'one size fits all' law. Instead the choice is left to parents who are best placed to know what is right for their child. It is vital there is flexibility for them to decide.
However, we would advise parents to never leave a baby or young child home alone, not even for a few minutes - whether they're sleeping or awake. Most accidents happen at home, and children under the age of five are most at risk of getting hurt.

Even if your child is approaching 12 they may not be mature enough to cope with an emergency. If you do need to leave them, make sure it's only for a short time
We know at some point every parent will have to spend some time away from their child. And as they get older, they'll often want to have a little more independence. But how can you make sure they're safe when they're not with you?

We encourage parents to think carefully before leaving their children at home - at any time. Leaving them unattended could put them at risk of accident or injury - how would they cope if something unexpected happened? It's also a good idea to ask them how they feel about being left alone and talk to them about what to do in an emergency so they feel confident and prepared.

Teach your child what to do if there's ever a problem. Keep your mobile phone with you and make sure your child knows your number. Also leave a list of people you trust for them to go to or call, such as a neighbour or relative.

It's a good idea to agree on some house rules that suit your child's age and maturity before leaving them at home alone. Talk to your child about what's OK and what's not. For example, agree whether they can have a friend round or even go over to a friend's house. You should definitely point out the risks of mentioning that they're home alone on social media as it's quite possible that all their online friends could take this as an invitation to come visiting.

If you're still unsure about leaving your child home alone, feel free to get in touch with us. Our trained experts at the NSPCC helpline can listen to any worries you have about leaving your child alone. Call us on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk for free, friendly and confidential advice.

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