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What is the NSPCC advice about leaving a child home alone or with older brothers and sisters and what does the law say?



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Can I leave my child home alone?

With the school holidays underway and parents juggling children, work and childcare it is a question many parents may be asking themselves.

With no specified legal age that a child can be left indoors by themselves it is a choice that rests solely with parents and carers.

With schools out for summer, many parents face juggling work and childcare. Photo: Stock image.
With schools out for summer, many parents face juggling work and childcare. Photo: Stock image.

Advice included on the government website makes it clear the law does not give an age when a child can be left - but reminds parents that it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.

Parents instead, are told to use their judgment when it comes to deciding how mature a youngster is to manage the responsibility.

The NSPCC has a raft of information on its website to help parents reach sensible conclusions about how well their child may manage at home by themselves - while there is also some advice for families considering letting their children outside unsupervised for the first time too.

The charity admits that when to reach that milestone is a 'tricky decision' for parents to make.

The NSPCC advises no child under 12 should be left alone and definitely for no significant length of time
The NSPCC advises no child under 12 should be left alone and definitely for no significant length of time

What is the advice?

Breaking it down into age groups in its guides, the charity recommends parents avoid leaving older primary pupils under the age of 12 home alone, and definitely never for any significant length of time, while no child under 16 should be left by themselves over night.

It adds: "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."

But whatever the child's age, parents are encouraged to think about whether their children are ready to be independent or not - this could include not only whether they're old enough but also do they have enough knowledge to deal with potential risks alongside asking them how they feel about being by themselves.

Parents are also advised to understand what parts of being home alone may worry a child, such as being afraid of the dark or a knock at the door, so that where possible any potential worries can be resolved ahead of reaching a final decision.

But the NSPCC is quick to point out that any child worried about being left alone and who doesn't look ready for the responsibility shouldn't ever be made to stay by themselves and instead cared for by a friend or relative if necessary.

Would your children bicker and argue if left without an adult to manage the situation? Photo: Stock photo.
Would your children bicker and argue if left without an adult to manage the situation? Photo: Stock photo.

What about sibling babysitters?

As with leaving a child by themselves, there is no legal age a child can babysit.

Many parents with older children or step-siblings often feel more comfortable about leaving children together, acknowledges the NSPCC, particularly if one sibling is older.

Considering how well your children get on, whether there is a risk that they'll fight, asking the older child whether they feel ready for the responsibility, agreeing house rules and coming up with an agreed safety plan for an emergency are all bases experts suggest should be covered before choosing to shut the door on brothers and sisters at home together.

The NSPCC also suggests families embark on a trial run while adults are close by and that when the time comes to leaving them, agreeing a suitable activity the children can enjoy together such as watching a film or playing a board game can also help time pass smoothly.

Children and parents should agree what is permitted when a parent goes out
Children and parents should agree what is permitted when a parent goes out

Checklists before leaving

Last year the NSPCC launched its 'Home or Out Alone' campaign that shared advice and information with parents about safety issues, boundaries and building trust before any family makes the move and leaves children in the house by themselves.

And for families getting ready to take that step for the very first time there was also a checklist of things it advises parents to do.

This includes ensuring children's devices or technology they may use will keep them safe online, setting ground rules relating to friends coming over, activities they're permitted to do such as cooking or preparing food, putting any dangerous objects or substances out of reach and what to do if for example, someone knocked at the door.

This is alongside advice about making sure they understand what to do in an emergency, have a clear plan in place in the event of a problem and that they know who to call and how.

It is also suggested parents and children should build up any time apart, either inside or outside the home, slowly and steadily and that parents make a point of checking in often with those they've left behind as well as giving a clear indication of when they'll be back home to ease any lingering anxiety.



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