Our Helpline sees a large increase in parents seeking advice about leaving children home alone over summer holidays

We’re urging parents to think carefully about whether their child is ready to be left home alone over the summer holidays.

  • During the months of July and August, there’s an increase in contacts to our Helpline about children being left home alone.
  • Neglect was the top concern in Helpline sessions in 2022/23, with 11,428 contacts. Of these, more than 40% (4,717) mentioned a child being left alone or unsupervised.
  • The number of contacts about children being left unsupervised increased during the summer holidays, with 1,015 contacts to the Helpline about this issue over July and August in 2022.
  • We wouldn’t recommend leaving a child under 12 years old home alone, particularly for a long time.

Worried about a child?

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At what age can children be left home alone?

For working parents, July and August can be particularly difficult as they’re forced to try and balance the competing pressures of work and childcare. For some, these challenges are likely to be even more severe this year with the cost-of-living crisis putting additional strain on family finances, forcing them to work even more hours.

There isn’t a legal age limit for leaving children alone. Still, NSPCC and Government guidance encourages parents to use their judgement before leaving any child home alone – especially those under 12 years old.  

Infants and young children aged 0-3 should never be left alone – even for a few minutes. This includes visiting next door or leaving children in your car while you run into a shop. For older children, there’s no single rule for all, especially if a child has complex needs. It’s up to parents and carers to decide when and where it’s safe and appropriate for their child to be left unsupervised.

A child who doesn’t feel comfortable should never be home alone, and for those who do it’s still vital they’re left with contact numbers for a parent or carer and another trusted adult in case they ever feel unsafe, uncomfortable or unsure about something.

If leaving a child alone is the only option for an adult, then we have tips for parents to help make sure the young person feels safe. This includes checking in with them regularly and practising what to do in an emergency, if one happens while you’re away.

Children are contacting Childline about being left home alone

Childline often hears from children who have been left home alone for a long time with little communication. Being left alone for a long time can lead to children feeling afraid, and this can lead to serious cases of neglect.

"Mum has left us alone again; she keeps doing this. She just disappears for days, won’t answer anyone’s calls or texts. I’m so frustrated and angry with her. My brother is only 6, I can look after him myself, but I shouldn’t have to. I feel like no one is ever looking after ME."
A girl, aged 15, who contacted Childline

Childline is available for young people via the phone on 0800 1111 and online where there’s a 1-2-1 counsellor chat. We have tips for parents to help make sure the young person feels safe.

Our Home or Out Alone campaign aims to tackle this issue

With renewed support from Blakemore Retail, which owns 262 SPAR stores across England and Wales, we’re running a Home or Out Alone campaign. This promotes a quiz and advice designed to help parents and carers make the right decisions about leaving their children at home safely or letting them leave the house unsupervised.

"Many parents struggle with finding the right time to leave their child home alone for the first time. Every child is different, and the right time will differ for every family. It’s crucial that children are involved in the conversation about when they may be ready for this and what they’re comfortable with. Our Helpline will continue to support parents who are unsure about whether their child can be left home alone and for other adults who are worried that an unsupervised child may be at risk."
Kam Thandi, NSPCC Head of Helpline