NSPCC Helpline predicts rise in calls as children are left home alone during the school summer holidays

In 2020/21, the Helpline received over 6,000 contacts about children left without adult supervision, and the cost-of-living crisis is expected to put more pressure on families this summer.


Each year it's the summer months that see the highest number of calls to our Helpline from adults concerned about children left unsupervised, peaking during the school summer holidays. We expect to see another spike in contacts regarding children left home alone or out alone this summer. 

It can be difficult for working parents to manage the 6-week school break, and between work, appointments and other family commitments, every parent is likely to leave their child home alone at some point. But we’re urging parents and carers to think carefully about leaving children home alone or unsupervised as the summer holidays start in England and Wales. 

While there’s no legal age a child can be left home alone, as every child matures differently, it is against the law to leave a child alone if it puts them at risk. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable, they shouldn’t be left home alone. 

As children get older, it’s common for them to want more freedom and learn to be independent. This is an important part of growing up, but there can be a lot to think about for parents.

Take the Home Alone quiz to see if your child is ready to stay home alone

During the pandemic, we saw a big increase in the number of adults contacting our Helpline about children left alone, receiving 6,017 contacts in 2020/21. This was an increase of a fifth when compared to the previous year. 

One reason for this increase could have been due to more people working from home who became more aware of their neighbours and what was happening with the people around them. 

During the 2020 lockdown, a neighbour called the NSPCC Helpline and said:


“I am concerned about a 9-year-old who is regularly being left unsupervised whilst her mother goes to work.

The mother does shift work so can be out of the house at different times of the day or night. The family has dogs and they are left with the child unsupervised.

I know the child is alone because I see the mother leaving the house for work and the child looking out of the bedroom window.”

While some of the 6,017 contacts our Helpline received in 2020/21 were from adults simply seeking guidance on when it's appropriate to leave children unattended, a worrying 60 percent (3,584) of all contacts were serious enough for us to pass them on to police or social services.

But while we are moving beyond the pandemic, and contacts to our Helpline begin to return to pre-pandemic levels (4,723 in 2021/22), the cost-of-living crisis is now starting to affect families. It's important for members of the public to continue to look out for the children in their communities.

We’re teaming up with SPAR store operator Blakemore Retail to help parents decide if their children are ready to stay home or go out alone.

Think about if your child can deal with risks, will they behave responsibly, will they be safe. And perhaps most importantly, how does your child feel about this idea?

Make sure you know where they want to go, what they want to do, who they will be with and how far will they travel. This will help you to make the right decision.

If they’re staying at home, make sure they have a parent or carer’s number, another trusted adult’s number and have a trusted adult in mind that they could go to in person, in an emergency.

If they’re going out alone make sure they know their full name, address, and have two trusted adults’ phone numbers.

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, while children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight

Discuss all the different scenarios they might face and how to stay safe. Ask them what they’d do and how they feel about them.

This will help you and your child know how they should behave when you’re not around. It’s a good idea to agree on some house or outside rules that suit their maturity before you leave them alone. Give your child a chance to build their independence by building your trust.

Kam Thandi, NSPCC National Services Director said:

“As the school summer holidays begin, we want to encourage parents and carers to think carefully about leaving children home alone or unsupervised, and also remind members of the public to look out for the children in their communities.

During the pandemic we saw an increase in the contacts we received about this issue, as many people were at home and more aware of what the people around them were doing.

The summer months can present a particularly challenging time for parents and carers when it comes to making the decision about whether to let their children stay home alone or go out unsupervised. We launched our Home or Out Alone campaign with Blakemore Retail to help them navigate these decisions that we know can be tricky.”