Can you let your children stay home alone over the summer holidays while you're at work?
If you're a parent, you might be looking at the rest of summer worrying that your children may be home alone while you work.
With the school holidays in full flow, many parents will be trying to balance their work life with looking after their children. This dilemma can cause worry and stress for many over whether to leave their children at home or not.
It is not illegal to leave your children home alone and there is no legal minimum age. However, it is illegal to leave them at home unattended if it puts them at risk, which leads to some confusion.
Lots of parents have to work over summer, so what are the rules for leaving your kids unattended?
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children's (NSPCC) is leading a campaign this summer to help provide more guidance for parents on this subject and we wanted to share this with you too.
NSPCC Head of Local Campaigns, Helen Westerman, said: "A child who doesn't feel comfortable shouldn't be left alone," pointing out that as every child matures differently, it would be impossible to have a one size fits all law. Another problem many parents face is whether to let their children play outside without supervision, to which Westerman says: "Lots of parents will be thinking about whether it's safe to leave their children at home safely, and if they're old enough to leave the house unsupervised. This can be a really tricky decision for parents and carers to make as it will differ from child to child. "As well as navigating if a child is ready to be left alone, lots of parents will also find managing work alongside the school break really challenging, particularly in light of the soaring child costs and the cost of living crisis, which is putting additional pressure on families."
The NSPCC has been contacted 21,000 times about children being unsupervised over the past 4 years, nearly half of these take place in summer. "As children get older, it's common for them to want more freedom and learn to be independent," Westerman says. "This is an important part of growing up, but we know there can be a lot to think about for parents. As every child is different, we recommend building up their independence at their pace and checking in with them to make sure they feel safe."
1. Are they ready to be left home alone?
Parents need to weigh up how their child will deal with being unsupervised for any length of time, and particularly how they'll cope if something goes wrong. "Think about if they can deal with risks, will they behave responsibly, will they be safe?" asks Westerman. "And perhaps most importantly, how does your child feel about this idea?"
2. Take sensible precautions
If you decide to leave your child alone, leave a spare set of keys out and make sure they can get food or use the bathroom if they need to. "Consider if there's anything that could hurt them and how you could reduce that risk," advises Westerman.
3. Never leave babies or young children alone
It's important to remember that a baby or young child should never be left alone, not even for a few minutes, whether they're asleep or awake, stresses Westerman. "Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period."
The NSPCC also recommends that children under the age of 16 aren't left alone overnight, and if a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling.
4. Know the facts if they go out unsupervised
If your child is going out alone, make sure you know where they want to go and what they want to do, who they'll be with and how far they will travel. "This will help you make the right decision," explains Westerman.
5. Make sure they have the right phone numbers
If your child is staying home alone, make sure they have a parent or carer's number and have a trusted adult in mind that they could go to in person in an emergency. "If they're going out alone, make sure they know a trusted adult's full name and address, and have two trusted adults' phone numbers," advises Westerman.
6. Go through different scenarios with your child
Talk to your child early on about scenarios they might face and how to stay safe – ask them what they'd do and how they think they'd feel. "If they're going to be home alone for example, ask them what they'd do if they hurt themselves or if a stranger knocks on the door," suggests Westerman. "If they're going out alone, you might want to ask them what they'd do if someone asks them to do something they're not comfortable with."
7. Set clear boundaries
Make sure your child is well aware of the rules when they're unsupervised, both in the home or if they go out alone, so both you and they know how they should behave when you're not around. "It's a good idea to agree on some house or outside rules that suit their maturity before you leave them alone," suggests Westerman. "Give your child a chance to build their independence by building your trust. If they keep to rules and boundaries you set, you'll feel more confident letting them do more on their own."
The NSPCC has teamed up with Blakemore Retail for the NSPCC's Home or Out Alone campaign more information, a quiz and a downloadable guide can be found here https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/in-the-home/home-alone/