NSPCC Northern Ireland is reminding parents and carers not to leave young children home alone as the summer holidays are in full swing.
The charity has warned that although a child may seem responsible enough to be left alone without supervision, parents and carers should think carefully whether they would be able to cope with unexpected situations such as an emergency, a stranger calling at the house, being hungry or if the parent is away for longer than anticipated.
NSPCC NI is also encouraging parents to read its home alone guide which includes questions they should ask themselves and their children before deciding to leave a child unsupervised.
David Burns, NSPCC helpline manager for Northern Ireland, said: “It can be difficult for parents and carers to decide whether their child is ready to be left on their own and we know that the summer holidays can be a tricky time as people face increasing childcare pressures.
“However, it is still very concerning that we are consistently seeing a spike in the summer of referrals to social services and the police due to worries about children being left unsupervised. No child should be left on their own if there is any risk they will come to harm.”
To help parents and carers who may be considering whether or not to leave their child on their own for the first time this summer, the NSPCC is issuing guidance on leaving children home alone on its website.
Key points include:
- Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.
- 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 of time.
- Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.
- Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone.
- A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with it, regardless of their age.
- If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling.
- When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out – would they both be safe?
A snapshot of calls created from real Helpline contacts (but are not necessarily direct quotes) are as follows:
- “I am calling about children who are being left at home alone. This happens regularly for short periods of time, but recently during the holidays, I have noticed this is happening more. I am concerned about the children being at risk, as they could answer the door to strangers and I don’t think they are mature enough to know what to do if anything bad happened at home.“ (contact to the NSPCC Helpline about primary school aged children).
- “I have noticed that my neighbour’s children are being left alone for long periods of time. They are primary school age so they do not appear to be mature enough to be left alone. I have seen them behave in unsafe ways and I heard them fighting when they were alone and I was worried.” (contact to the NSPCC Helpline about primary school aged children)
The NSPCC’s helpline is available 24/7 on 0808 800 5000 for free and confidential advice.