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Leaving children home alone

Advice for parents on what to consider when deciding to leave a child home on their own


Sometimes you will want or need to leave your child home alone.

On these occasions, it is worth bearing in mind the following advice:


What the law says

The law does not set a minimum age at which children can be left alone. However, it is an offence to leave a child alone when doing so puts him or her at risk.


How to decide if you can safely leave a child alone

There are many important things to consider before you decide to leave a child alone. These include:

  • the age of the child
  • the child's level of maturity and understanding
  • the place where the child will be left
  • how long and how often the child will be left alone
  • whether or not there are any other children with the child.

For example, most parents would think it is okay to leave a 16-year-old alone for the evening. But to leave them for a week would be unacceptable.

Many young children play outdoors with other children without supervision, most people would agree that this is an important part of growing up. To leave children outdoors for a considerable length of time though, or to allow them to wander off without knowing where they are going, would be unacceptable.

You are the best judge of your child's level of maturity and responsibility. Read our Home alone leaflet for more information.

Home alone: your guide to keeping your child safe

This leaflet gives sound advice and useful tips to help parents decide in what situations they may leave their children home alone, and what they need to do to ensure their child's safety and wellbeing.

What to remember if you leave a child alone

If you do leave a child alone, remember to:

  • leave a contact telephone number and be available to answer it immediately
  • talk to your child about keeping safe at home and point out the potential dangers
  • tell them not to answer the door to strangers
  • give clear instructions on what to do in an emergency - they should be able to phone the emergency services
  • leave a list of trusted people they can contact
  • put obvious dangers out of reach of children, for example, medicines, matches
  • make sure that your child is happy about the arrangements and confident about being left
  • tell your child when you'll be back and make sure you're back on time
  • talk to him or her about it afterwards.

Choosing a babysitter

When selecting a babysitter or childminder remember to:

  • follow your instincts - if in doubt don't use them
  • ask for at least two references and contact the referees yourself
  • listen to your child about any issue of babysitting that they are unhappy about
  • if your child is unhappy about your babysitter, find someone else
  • only use registered childminders - a list is kept by your local authority children's information service.

For more advice on deciding if you need a babysitter or a child minder read our Home alone leaflet.

Home alone: your guide to keeping your child safe

This leaflet gives sound advice and useful tips to help parents decide in what situations they may leave their children home alone, and what they need to do to ensure their child's safety and wellbeing.

Where to find more advice

NSPCC: Adults worried about a child can talk to us for advice and support.

DirectGov: Information and advice for parents on safety, child care and schooling.

National Childminding Association (NCMA): Database of registered childminders and nannies and advice for parents in England and Wales.

Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NIMCA): Database of registered childminders and nannies and advice for parents in Northern Ireland.

Scottish Childcare (SCMA): Database of registered childminders and nannies and advice for parents in Scotland.

Daycare Trust: Information on childcare options for parents.


Annie's story

Annie (age 14) has babysat for her neighbour's two children age 6 and 8 on a number of occasions. Whenever she has been babysitting, Annie's mother has been at home and available to come if she were to have problems.

She informed her mother that a friend of the neighbour had rung and asked if she would sit for her children, a baby of 6 months, a toddler of 2 and a child of 5 with special needs. Annie was not sure about taking on this request but, as she was studying child care, was keen to go.

Her mother rang the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 and talked through the issues and risks for both the children and Annie with the counsellor. In the end, Annie and her mother decided they would both go to babysit the new family to ensure the situation was safe for everyone.

blonde girl and boy smiling

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