Staying safe away from home

Your guide to when your child's old enough to be out on their own, and how to teach them to keep safe while they're away

It's something every parent experiences. The day that their child starts asking if they can go out on their own or with friends. It's just a natural part of their growing independence and, like every part of growing up, it can be a challenging hurdle for a parent to overcome.

Just like deciding when a child's old enough to be left at home on their own, there's no set age when you know it will be safe for them to go out without you. Obviously, toddlers and young children won't be able to stay safe without you watching over them, and even older children have different levels of maturity. So some 11 year olds will be quite capable of going to the park or the shops on their own but others might not be ready to do this safely.

As well as thinking about how mature your child is for their age, the decision about whether you're happy for them to go out alone will depend on where they're planning to go. For example, going to the playground round the corner is very different to catching a bus to the local shops.

Because we all want our children to be as safe as possible, you really need to feel comfortable before letting them go out on their own. So some of the questions to ask yourself before you make up your mind are:

  • where and when do they want to go?
  • what do they want to do there?
  • who's going to be with them?
  • how far away are they going?
  • what time will they be back?
  • how can I reach them? 

Being aware of the risks outside the home

It's a good idea to be aware of the risks that children out alone might face – just to check that you've considered ways to minimise them. Risks could include:

  • getting lost
  • danger from traffic
  • bullying from other children
  • stranger danger
  • grooming
  • running into gangs
  • exposure to alcohol or drugs

It might seem like a scary list, but your guidance can help your child keep themselves safe. It'll also help build their self-confidence and independence at the same time.

Making sure your child's ready to go out alone

You know that one day the moment will come when your child will want to spread their wings so it makes sense for you both to start preparing for it.

Whenever you're out with your child talk about how they think they can keep themselves safe. For example, you could ask them about how they know when it's safe to cross a road, what to do if a stranger starts talking to them or other children start to bully them.

Let your child know where they can and can't go and explain why you're setting these rules. You should also tell them a definite time to come home.

Girl on tricycleIt's probably a good idea to have a test run before you let them go out on their own for the very first time. Let them lead the way and only step in if they're putting themselves in danger.

Don't be surprised if your child tries to persuade you that they'll be fine to go out alone or with an older brother or sister – but don't be pressurised either. You need to be sure that they'd know what to do if there was no one there to help them, for example if they argued with their brother or sister.

Even after they start going out on their own, keep discussing safety outside the home with them and remind them of the dangers. It's tempting to just leave them to it but you should still show you're interested in who they're spending their time with and what they're doing.

If you do notice anything that doesn't seem quite right – like them being secretive or coming home with new belongings they can't explain – you should definitely look into the reasons why.

Keeping your child safe in clubs, playing sport and at other activities

It's great if your child wants to get involved in clubs and sports. It can help them develop skills, make new friends and build self-confidence. But it's important to know that the people running the activity take your child's safety as seriously as you do.

So before your child starts joining in, here are some things to find out.

  • Is there a child protection policy?
  • Every organisation should know how children will be kept safe. If there isn't a written policy then you may want to think about whether you want your child to join.
  • Who do you speak to if you're worried about anything? 
  • It's important you know who to talk to if there's anything that's worrying you.
  • Is there a written code of conduct for coaches and volunteers?
  • You want to know that the people who will be in charge of your child have a set of rules and requirements they have to follow.
  • What happens when your child has to travel to "away" events?
  • Sometimes your child might have to go on trips with the club. They should have a policy that covers things like the recommended ratio of adults to children and how travel will be arranged between locations.
  • Are all staff trained, qualified and police checked to work with young people? 
  • The club should be able to confirm all the necessary checks have been completed.
  • How are health and safety issues handled
  • For example, is there always a trained first aider on hand and are all the fire exits marked and easy to open?
  • What's the policy if a child needs personal care?
  • If anyone from the club ever has to do anything that a parent would normally do, like taking a young child to the toilet, it's important that they have guidelines that have to be followed.

The great majority of clubs and activity centres will have all these safeguards in place. If you aren't sure they do, ask to see the policies for yourself. After all, nothing's more important than having the peace of mind that your child is in safe hands.


You can find more about how to best support your child and encourage their enjoyment of sport from our Child Protection in Sport Unit.