New statistics have raised concerns about children being left home alone over the summer holidays.
Statistics from the child protection charity the NSPCC higlighted the north west has a particular problem.
As schools in England and Wales break-up for summer the charity revealed specialist practitioners on its helpline received 5,737 calls and emails in 2018/19 from adults concerned about youngsters being left home alone.
Nearly a third of those calls and emails were between the summer months of July to September, when children are away from school for at least six weeks.
The number of referrals made to external agencies across the North West by the NSPCC in 2018/2019 was 705 – higher than any other region in the UK. There were also 62 contacts in the North West where advice was given relating to children who had been left alone or unsupervised.
While some of the 1,824 contacts to the NSPCC helpline in summer 2018 were from adults simply seeking advice on when it is appropriate to leave children unattended, a worrying 70 per cent of those contacts were judged so serious by the NSPCC they were passed on to police or social services.
Across the year worried callers reported children being left alone overnight, young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment and siblings fighting over iPads and games.
A concerned relative told the helpline: “I’m aware in the past my teenage grandson has been left home alone in the daytime and evenings while his mum goes out. At the moment, he’s being left home alone every day. He doesn’t have any friends or family in the new town so all he can do is play on his game station all day. The last time I saw him he looked really unhappy.”
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 cruelty to a child, which includes neglect, abandonment and failure to protect, if children are put at risk of suffering or injury.
Louise Exton, NSPCC helpline manager said: “Summer holidays can be a fun time for children but it is also when they are more likely to be left home alone as parents face increasing childcare pressures. Childcare is the biggest cost for families after housing, which could explain why we see a spike in calls to our helpline during these months.
“Leaving your child home alone can be a difficult decision as children mature at different ages – there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. Parents are best placed to know what is right for their child so it’s vital there is flexibility for them to decide, but we would urge them to think carefully and use their common sense when deciding if their child could cope.”
The NSPCC have issued the following guidance to help parents and carers decide when to leave children home alone:
• 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?