Leaving children at home alone
There is no legal age limit for leaving a child on their own, but it's an offence to leave a child alone if this puts them at risk. Parents/carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them home alone.
How mature the child is
It is important to consider the child's maturity. It might be acceptable to leave a mature 12 year old alone, but not a 13 year old or older who isn't mature and may put themselves or others at risk of harm.
A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, 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.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) advises that:
- 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
- NSPCC website
Preparation before leaving your child alone
If you intend leave your child home alone, you should:
- leave a contact phone number and make sure you can answer it right away
- leave a separate contact list of people you trust, in case your child can't contact you
- talk to your child before you leave about how to stay safe, and tell them not to open the door or invite strangers into the house
- make sure dangerous objects like matches and knives are out of reach, and that all medicines (drugs) and dangerous chemicals are in a locked cupboard
- leave clear instructions on and practise what to do in case of an emergency (like a fire)
- check in on your child regularly while you are out until they have built up confidence
- make sure your child knows how to be safe online while you are out
- tell them what time you will be back, and don’t be late
- set some basic rules about what they can and can’t do while you are out
- teach them basic first aid
- make sure they have access to adequate food and drink
- make sure that the young person does not bring other friends into your house without your permission
- make sure you have no planned deliveries to the house during this time
It's important to make sure that your child is happy and safe to be left alone. If they aren’t confident about being left alone, you need to make other arrangements or have someone you trust to look after them.
For information about different types of childcare, go to: