When can children be home alone

The NSPCC have published an excellent article and guidance as to the best way to keep your children safe over the summer. Read the full article here

Last year the NSPCC received 453 calls and emails from adults concerned about youngsters being left home alone during the summer holidays. A total of 366 were serious enough for information to be passed on to the police or social services for further investigation.

Summer is a critical time as parents struggle juggling work and other commitments over the long summer holidays.

The law does not give a specific age for when children can be left home alone.

In total, 2,489 home alone cases were brought to the charity’s attention between 2014 and 2015 and 1,883 incidences, involving 3,610 children, were passed to social services.

Of the children involved, 35% were aged between one and five.


The law simply says a child shouldn’t be left alone if they are at risk. Parents must use their own judgement.

Parents who are judged to have put a child at risk by leaving them on their own can be taken to court and even sent to prison.

The NSPCC gave the following helpful guidance when deciding if it is safe to leave your child home alone:

  • Does your child seem to be responsible and mature for their age and always do what you tell him or her?
  • Would they be able to fix themselves something to eat and drink and would you be happy with them using the cooker or microwave?
  • Can you imagine how they’d cope in an emergency like a power cut or a flooded bathroom?
  • Would they know what to do if the phone rang or if someone came to the door?
  • Would they know how to contact you or another family member or friend, if they needed to?
  • How would they feel about being left alone – pleased to be given the responsibility or scared by the thought of it?

The next question is: when is your child safe to go out alone?

  • Be prepared– start preparing for the time your child will want to spread their wings in advance.
  • Talk about dangers in advance– about crossing roads safely, about what to do if a stranger starts talking to them and about what to do if other children are mean to them.
  • Set some rules– set boundaries of where they can and can’t go and what time they must be back.
  • Build their confidence– do a test run first, letting them lead the way.
  • Make sure you’re ready too– don’t feel pressured and take it at your own pace.
  • Keep talking– keep up the conversation about safety and what to do when they are out alone.

As a parent of teenagers – particularly in today’s terrorist environment, I would add the following:

Keeping your teenagers safe:

  • Impress upon them the important of always calling or texting to ensure you know where they are, and as plans change they must ask / let you know new locations.
  • Ensure they let you know the route they are taking when walking, cycling, skateboarding to other people’s houses or to meet up.
  • Have a rule about saving some phone battery for emergencies – particularly with the Pokemon craze, I have run out of battery is not a valid excuse. There are plenty of cheap portable chargers they can use and it encourages responsibility to ensure their charge is never less than 5%.
  • If their battery has got to 5% and there is no back up plan – they need to come home!
  • Remind them not to wear head phones when out and about – especially when on their bikes! Explain the importance of remaining aware of your surroundings at all times.

This naturally leads onto; how old should a child be before they can babysit?

Another sensitive decision to make over the summer break, is whether older children are safe and ready to use as babysitters?

  • When asking an older sibling or friendly teenager to babysit, it is vitally important to consider how competent they would be in an emergency;
  • How mature and responsible are they?
  • Are they familiar with your home and any risks within it?
  • How well do they know your children and do your children know and feel safe with them?
  • Ensure whoever is looking after your child is First Aid trained and would be able to help in an emergency.
  • Fully brief them, introduce them to your children and familiarise them with your home.
  • Remind them they are there to supervise your children safely and adhere to your rules.
  • Have a local back-up adult available.
  • Make arrangements in advance for the sitter’s safe return home – their safety is your responsibility too.
  • Complete an emergency check list – available from firstaidforlife.org.uk with useful emergency contact information and details should they need to phone the emergency services.

Brief you babysitter and remind them to be particularly careful of hazards; including hot drinks, pets, tiredness and anything else that could cause a danger. You should explicitly point out these things as potential dangers so they understand that this is a responsible job.
What about the right age to babysit? Find out here an advice from RoSPA.

Is an older sibling the best option?

Injury Prevention (a BMA journal); revealed that when older siblings supervise younger children, there is an increased risk of injury: as mothers tend to spot and remove dangers, whereas older siblings often interact with hazards eg. make a hot drink and leave it accessible. Children also took more risks when supervised by siblings, copying what they were doing and failing to listen when being told off. This led to an increase in accidents and injuries.

A babysitter is entrusted with someone else’s life in their hands and that is a tremendous responsibility.

For a happy and healthy life, parents do need their freedom too. Most childcare is superb and the children remain safe and happy; however, it does no harm to think carefully and plan before leaving them and everyone will be that much safer as a result.

Written by Emma Hammett, firstaidforlife.org.uk, tel: 02086754036 emma@firstaidforlife.org.uk

First Aid for Life are First Aid Experts providing practical and online First Aid courses tailored to your needs.

First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.

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