Now that the school holidays have begun, many parents in Northern Ireland will be in the midst of sorting out extra childcare over the long summer break.
At the NSPCC Helpline, we often receive calls asking about the appropriate age to allow children to stay home alone, because between work appointments and other family commitments it’s inevitable that many parents may have to deal with this situation. It can be difficult to know what’s best to do and it’s natural for parents to worry, so with this in mind, I thought this would be a good opportunity to give some insight into if and when it is safe for your child to be home alone.
In fact, there is no legal age that a child can be left home alone but it’s against the law to leave a child alone if it puts them at risk. Every child matures differently, so it would be almost impossible to have a “one size fits all” law. A child who doesn’t feel comfortable should never be left home alone and obviously, infants aged 0 to 3 should never be left, even for a few minutes. Also, we wouldn’t recommend leaving a child under 12 years old home alone, particularly for longer periods of time.
However, as children get older they will also want more freedom and independence, which brings new concerns too. This is another tough decision for parents and carers to make and one that will differ from child to child. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a plan in place with your child, to help to build up their independence at their own pace.
It’s vital to talk to your child about how they feel about this situation and ask if they are worried about anything when being home alone and do they feel safe. Regularly checking how they feel, can pinpoint any concerns and will give you an idea of how to help or why they might not be ready to be left alone. If they are happy to be home alone for a while, it’s always good to check in with them to make sure they feel safe.
There is guidance and information at https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/in-the-home/home-alone/ but the most important thing to remember is that a child who doesn’t feel comfortable should not be left alone.
Parents can also contact our helpline on 0808 800 5000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more advice. Our Childline service is available too, and children can contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 0800 1111 or via a one-to-one chat on www.childline.org.uk
Wishing you a safe and happy summer!
Service Head Helplines
NSPCC Northern Ireland