15.19 Children left unaccompanied by parents/carers (Home alone)
Last reviewed in July 2022
Next review in July 2025
The issue of when children can be left alone is a topic where there is continuing uncertainty for both parents and professionals, as there is no clear point when it is appropriate to leave a child unaccompanied by a parent or other responsible adult, or cared for by another child or young person.
There is no legal age at which a child can be left alone, although in some circumstances leaving a child without appropriate supervision and care will amount to a criminal offence. The level of uncertainly in these cases means that parents can sometimes leave children unaccompanied without fully considering or understanding the level of risk a child may face, but in the belief it is safe to do so.
In other circumstances incidents of children being left home alone, especially if repeated, may be indicative of some more serious neglect or abuse that requires investigation, and is some cases will clearly be unlawful and require statutory intervention.
Just like deciding when a child's old enough to be left at home on their own, there's no set age when children can be allowed to go out without an adult or responsible person. As well as considering the level of maturity of the child, the places they are allowed to go on their own should be carefully thought through, as well as the times that they are allowed out. Parents and carers should make sure that the child is suitably prepared and understands they risks they may encounter, as well as knowing what to do if something goes wrong. .
The use of this guidance should be considered in the following circumstances:
The law outlines the circumstances in which a child who is left unaccompanied will amount to a criminal offence:
If any person who has attained the age of sixteen years and has responsibility for a child or young person under that age, wilfully assaults, ill-treats (whether physically or otherwise), neglects, abandons, or exposes him, or causes or procures him to be assaulted, ill-treated (whether physically or otherwise), neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (whether the suffering or injury is of a physical or a psychological nature) that person is guilty of an offence, and shall be liable. (Section 1(1) of the Children & Young Persons Act 1933)
This offence can only be committed by a person aged 16 or over who responsibility for a child under that age.
In addition to the above there are general considerations that parents and carers should follow:
Also see advice for parents from the NSPCC:
In any situation where a child is found in the circumstances described above, the first issue to consider is the immediate safety of the child. If the child is at immediate risk of significant harm the police should be called immediately. The police have the power to take any child who is at immediate risk of significant harm into police protection. This will ensure the ongoing safety of a child whilst enquiries are made to locate their parents or carers. When a child is taken into police protection the police must inform children’s social care who should initiate Section 47 enquiries.
Even if a child is not at immediate risk of significant harm, if a child is found in circumstances where the parents or carers cannot be immediately located, the police should be contacted in order that enquiries can be made to locate the parents/ carers and consider whether any offences may have been committed.
When a professional who is working with a family discovers a child from that family unaccompanied, there is no reason why they cannot make initial enquires to locate the relevant parents/carers, but if these are not successful, the police should then again be notified.
In any of the above circumstances any child found should not be left unaccompanied by the professional discovering them until the parents/carers have been located and are considered suitable to care for the child, or the child has been taken into police protection. Arrangements to place the child with relatives, friends or neighbours should only be made as a last resort, providing the child is old enough to have a view and is content to be placed in such circumstances, and police and children’s social care records have confirmed the suitability of any such person
In all incidents of children being found without appropriate supervision as decribed above, the child(ren) should be made subject of a referral to children’s social care - see Making a Referral
There is no minimum age in law below which a child / young person may not 'baby-sit' a younger child. Those who hold Parental Responsibility are responsible for ensuring the baby-sitter is capable and will provide adequate care and should take account of:
The NSPCC recommend 16 as the minimum age for baby-sitting.
If a baby-sitter is aged 16 or over and wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or exposes a younger child in a manner likely to cause her/him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (or causes to procures the child to be so treated), s/he and the person with parental responsibility who arranged the babysitting are liable to prosecution.