Advice on leaving children home alone this summer

The summer holidays are coming and childcare is expensive. What is the law on leaving children at home and what should you consider?



A lack of affordable childcare and the rising cost of living have resulted in a growing number of parents leaving their children home alone in the summer holidays.

Deciding if your child is ready to be left home alone can be a tricky decision for a parent. There are lots of things to think about. Plus, there are no hard and fast ‘home alone’ rules or laws because every child is different. Whether you or your child are comfortable with the idea will often depend on how mature and adaptable your child is – and this can vary from child to child.

What the law says

Legally, there’s no set age for leaving children home alone. The law simply says that you shouldn’t leave a child alone if they’ll be at risk.

There’s such a wide variation in the rate that children mature that it would be almost impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” law. Instead, the choice is left to parents. They know their children best and can use their own judgement.

That’s not to say that there are no laws on leaving children home alone. Under the Children and Young Persons (England and Wales) Act 1933, the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 and the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1968, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect. This means that they can be fined or sent to prison if they are judged to have placed a child at risk of harm by leaving them at home alone, regardless of where in the UK the child lives.

There might not be a specific legal age to leave children alone, but it’s safe to say babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone, even if it’s just while you pop down the road. Even if they’re sleeping peacefully when you leave they could well wake up and get very upset when you’re not there to look after them. They would not be able to protect themselves in an emergency and may even try to leave the property to find you.

The NSPCC makes the following recommendations to try and keep children safe.

• Infants and young children aged 0-3 years old should never be left alone – even for 15 minutes while you pop down the road. This applies not just to leaving them home alone but also in your car while you run into the shops.

• While every child is different, the NSPCC wouldn’t recommend leaving a child under 12 years old home alone, particularly for longer periods of time.

• Children in primary school aged 6-12 are usually too young to walk home from school alone, babysit or cook for themselves without adult supervision. If you need to leave them home, it’s worth considering leaving them at a friend’s house, with family or finding some suitable childcare.

• Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.

• Whether they’re 12 years old or almost 18 years old, there might be reasons that they don’t feel safe in the house alone. Just because your child is older doesn’t necessarily mean they‘re ready to look after themselves or know what to do in an emergency. It can help to go over the ground rules and remind them how to stay safe at home.

The NSPCC also has some questions to consider around ground rules:

  • Would your child know what to do if the phone rang or someone came to the door?
  • Do they know how and when to contact you if they need to? They will need your numbers and back-up suggestions in case you don’t answer.
  • Are there any activities, such as cooking, that could be dangerous without a grown-up in the house?
  • Are they allowed to have friends over while you are gone?

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