The NSPCC has referred dozens of cases to the police and children’s services in Northamptonshire after receiving calls and emails from members of the public worried about children left home alone.
Specialist counsellors on its 24-hour Helpline made 84 referrals to local agencies in Northamptonshire over the last two years.
There were also 15 calls and emails from people in the county seeking advice about children being left home alone.
Although the law does not give a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if children are put at risk of suffering or injury.
Worried callers to the NSPCC Helpline have reported children being left alone overnight and young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment.
One caller who phoned the NSPCC Helpline said: “They’re leaving the kids alone at all hours of the day, from early in the morning until late at night.
They have to fend for themselves and make their own meals and use the cooker and other dangerous kitchen equipment. When I go round to check on them they pretend that their mum is in the house, but I don’t believe she is. I never see her.”
The NSPCC is warning that although a child may seem responsible enough to be left alone without supervision, parents and carers should think carefully whether they would be able to cope with unexpected situations such as an emergency, a stranger calling at the house, being hungry or if the parent is away for longer than they thought.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Deciding if a child is ready to be left on their own can be a very difficult decision and the summer holidays can be a difficult time for parents and carers as they face increasing childcare pressures.
“Although there is no minimum age, no child should be left on their own if there is any risk they will come to harm."
To help parents and carers who may be considering whether or not to leave their child on their own for the first time this summer, the NSPCC is issuing guidance on leaving children home alone on its website.”
Key advice includes:
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.
Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone.
A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with it, 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.
When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?
There were 41 referrals last year (2016/17) to local agencies in Northamptonshire and 43 referrals made in 2015/16.
There were eight calls and emails from people in Northamptonshire last year (2016/17) seeking advice about children being left home alone following seven received in 2015/16.
Mr Wanless said: “Children mature at their own rate so it’s really important parents think carefully about what is right for their child.
“Children shouldn’t be left on their own if they are not happy with being left, or if they don’t know what to do in an emergency.”
Complaints from worried members of the public in Northamptonshire included:
“My neighbour has gone away overnight and left their 10 year old home alone. This isn’t the first time this has happened. They have an older brother but he doesn’t live there. The child comes to my house when their mum goes away because they don’t want to be on their own.”
“There’s somebody who lives around the corner who keeps leaving their two children at home on their own. When their dad is not there the children fight and shout. One is a lot older and bigger than the other and I’m worried that they’re being hurt. I feel like someone should be there to intervene and stop them”
“Their dad is going away for work for days at a time, leaving the three children on their own. He comes back at weekends, even though the children are teenagers I don’t think it’s fair or responsible for them to be left for so long on their own. It’s been going on for about six months now”
The NSPCC’s Childline service provides a safe, confidential place for children with no one else to turn to, whatever their worry, whenever they need help. Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0800 1111 or by visiting www.childline.org.uk.
Another free helpline provides adults with a place they can get advice and support, share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection. Adults can contact the helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0808 800 5000, by texting 88858 or visiting www.nspcc.org.uk.