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The NSPCC is urging parents to think carefully before leaving their children home alone during the summer holidays.
The charity’s helpline received 453 calls and emails between July and September last year from adults concerned about youngsters being left unattended. Of these over three-quarters -366- were so serious they were passed to police or social services.
Throughout last year the helpline received 1,729 calls and emails from adults concerned about children being left to fend for themselves, with more than half of those referred to police or social services under 10.
The NSPCC’s ChildLine service also delivered 273 counselling sessions to children and young people last year who were worried about being left home alone.
One woman who called the 24-hour helpline said: “I’m really worried about a young girl who’s been in the house by herself for a whole day now. Her mother visits her partner over the weekends. The child is always looking very sad and unkempt which upsets me. This has been going on for months, but I felt as if I couldn’t say anything as I’m related to them and I didn’t want to compromise our relationship. But I just can’t keep quiet anymore.”
Another told counsellors: “I’m worried about some children who live nearby and are left alone all day. Sometimes they don’t even go to school. I feel sorry for the mum because she’s working full time. She used to have a babysitter for them, but even she’s stopped coming around. Sometimes I pop over to check up on the children, but they don’t always open the door to me even though I can hear them inside. I’m worried something dangerous could happen to them while their mum’s at work. It makes me really sad.”
As for the children, these are some of the comments the NSPCC received from young secondary school aged children:
“I hate being home alone; I’m so bored and hungry. It’s the school holidays and my dad is at work. He said childcare is too expensive and he can’t afford it. Thing is I don’t really know how to make anything to eat apart from make myself some toast, but I’m sick of eating that every day. I thought about calling some friends over, but I would be embarrassed because the house is so dirty. It makes me really sad.” (Boy, 12-years-old)
“I feel so lonely; I’m at home alone and am not feeling well but there isn’t anyone here that can look after me. I’ve been in bed all day and just feel like crying. Both my parents work really hard and I do feel sorry for them, but it’s the school holidays and all my friends have been visiting other countries while I have to stay at home. Everyday I’m home alone for hours until they both get back from work and it’s going to be like this until school reopens in September. I feel so down.” (Girl, 14-years-old)
The law does not give a minimum age for leaving children alone at home, but it’s against the law if it puts them at risk.
Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC said: “Summer holidays can be a fun time for children, but it’s also when they are more likely to be left home alone as parents face increasing childcare pressures. This 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. But it could put them at greater risk of accident or injury. So I would urge parents to use their common sense when deciding if their child could cope. They should also ask them how they feel about being left alone and talk to them about what to do in an emergency. Parents are best placed to know what is right for their child so it is vital there is flexibility for them to decide.”
The NSPCC’s advice on leaving a child at home:
The NSPCC will be launching new online interactive guidance for parents and carers to help them decide if their child is ready to be left home alone.