At what age is it OK to leave your child home alone?

The NSPCC is warning parents to think twice before leaving children home alone this summer [Photo: Getty]
The NSPCC is warning parents to think twice before leaving children home alone this summer [Photo: Getty]

The summer holidays are undoubtedly a challenging time for parents, who have six, long weeks to entertain their children while also juggling work and childcare.

For some parents the stress of it all could prompt a decision to leave children home on their own, but the NSPCC is urging mums and dads to think carefully before leaving their children home alone.

The request comes after the charity reported a 21% rise in correspondence about children being left unsupervised during the holidays last year.

The charity published data revealing that 5,737 calls and emails were made to its helpline in 2018-19 about the issue.

Nearly a third of those calls and emails were made during the summer of 2018, the data revealed.

The charity believes the rise in the number of children being left alone could in part be explained by “increasing childcare pressures” parents face during the summer months, with it now being the biggest cost for families after housing.

“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,” explains Louise Exton, a manager at the NSPCC helpline.

"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.

Of the 1,824 times the helpline was contacted about the issue last summer, 70% of cases were judged to be so serious they were referred to the police or social services.

Callers expressed a range of reasons for their concerns, including children being left alone at night, having to make food for themselves and using unsafe kitchen appliances.

READ MORE: Teens 'more likely to try drugs in the summer': How to have the drugs talk with your children

How young is too young to be left alone? [Photo: Getty]
How young is too young to be left alone? [Photo: Getty]

So when can children legally be left alone?

There are no UK laws dictating an age at which children can be left home alone meaning the decision is left solely in the hands of the parent or guardian.

A Government website encourages parents to use their judgement before leaving children alone or in a car.

But the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) advises that babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left unsupervised – adding that children under the age of 12 “are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency” therefore should not be left home alone for a long period of time.

The NSPCC also stresses that although children under the age of 16 may be ok left home alone during the day, they should not be left unsupervised overnight.

Despite being somewhat of a grey area, the government website points out that
parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised “in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health.”

READ MORE: Two thirds of parents wish the school holidays were shorter: here's how to survive them

“Leaving your child home alone can be a difficult decision as children mature at different ages – there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer,” Louise Exon explains.

"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.”

The issue is certainly a divisive one for parents.

Earlier this year a mum took to Mumsnet to ask fellow parents at what age it is appropriate to leave her child at home alone and the question swiftly split opinions.

A further debate was triggered in June after a woman questioned if she could leave her 11-year-old child to look after their nine-year-old sibling unsupervised while she popped to the gym.

What do you think? How young is too young for a child to be left home alone?