A children’s charity has spoken out about the risks of leaving children home alone, after shock figures revealed that police and children services are getting more and more calls from concerned neighbours, who have witnessed children being left alone for long periods of time.
As the Summer holidays get under way, leading children’s charity NSPCC has revealed that worried callers to the charity's helpline have reported children being left alone overnight and young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment.
Specialist counsellors, who take calls and emails 24-hours a day, made 127 referrals in 2016/2017 to agencies in Derbyshire and Staffordshire, which has risen dramatically from 84 in 2015/16.
In Staffordshire, the total number of referrals rose from 50 in 2015/16 to 63 in 2016/17, while in Derbyshire the total increased from 34 in 2015/16 to 64 in 2016/17.
Although the law does not give a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if children are put at risk of suffering or injury.
One caller said: "They are leaving the kids alone at all hours of the day, from early in the morning until late at night. They have to fend for themselves and make their own meals and use the cooker and other dangerous kitchen equipment. When I go round to check on them they pretend that their mum is in the house, but I don’t believe she is. I never see her."
The NSPCC is warning 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 they thought.
It has released a special guide for parents which includes questions they should ask themselves and their children before deciding to leave a child unsupervised.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: "Deciding if a child is ready to be left on their own can be a very difficult decision and the summer holidays can be a difficult time for parents and carers as they face increasing childcare pressures.
"Although there is no minimum age, no child should be left on their own if there is any risk they will come to harm.
"Children mature at their own rate so it is really important parents think carefully about what is right for their child.Children should not be left on their own if they are not happy with being left, or if they don’t know what to do in an emergency."
The NSPCC’s helpline is available 24/7 on 0808 800 5000 for free and confidential advice.
Key advice includes:
- 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?
Shocking soundbites from calls to the NSCPCC
Here are a number of extracts taken from concerned people who have called the helpline to report children being left home alone.
"My neighbour has gone away overnight and left their 10 year old home alone. This isn’t the first time this has happened. They have an older brother but he doesn’t live there. The child comes to my house when their mum goes away because they don’t want to be on their own."
"There is somebody who lives around the corner who keeps leaving their two children at home on their own. When their dad is not there the children fight and shout. One is a lot older and bigger than the other and I am worried that they are being hurt. I feel like someone should be there to intervene and stop them."
"Their Dad is going away for work for days at a time, leaving the three children on their own. He comes back at weekends, even though the children are teenagers I don’t think it is fair or responsible for them to be left for so long on their own. It has been going on for about six months now."