Home alone

This page explains the law on leaving a child home alone including things to consider before taking this decision.

It is an offence to leave a child at home alone if doing so puts them at risk.

What age can I leave my child at home on their own?

Parents often wonder when it is safe to leave a child unsupervised at home. The law does not specify an age when a child can be left at home alone. However, parents commit an offence if leaving the child at home alone puts him or her at risk.

Even a short period of time on alone can be distressing and lonely for a child and most children under 13 years of age would not be able to cope with an emergency.

Why does the law not specify an age to make it clear?

There is no specific age when a child can be left at home alone as maturity and understanding differs from child to child.

What are the potential legal consequences of leaving a child home alone?

Whilst there is no law stating at what age a child can be left home alone, there are legal consequences that may result from a child being left at home alone where it is felt that this was not safe for the child, or placed the child at risk.

Under the Children and Young Persons Act 1993, if a parent leaves a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’, they can be prosecuted for neglect. It is important to be aware that frequently leaving your child home alone can constitute neglect, which is a form of child abuse.

How long can I leave my child at home alone for?

There is no law that says for how long a child can be left at home alone, but it is an offence if they are put at risk. For example, a parent who leaves a 12 year old alone at home to take a short trip to the local shops would not be committing an offence, but leaving a 14 year old at home alone for a week would be an offence.

The NSPCC advise that:

  • children under the age of 12 are usually not mature enough to be left alone;
  • children under 16 are not left at home overnight.

The above is only guidance—there no set ages in relation to children being left at home alone.

How do I decide whether my child can safely be left at home alone?

Age should not be used on its own to assess when you can leave a child at home on their own. You should also consider whether the child is mature enough to be able to cope with an emergency and how long the child is being left for. It is a good idea to discuss the possibility of being left alone with the child and ask them how they feel about it.

It is sensible to consider the following aspects:

  • How old is the child?
  • What is the child’s level of maturity and understanding?
  • How long will the child be left alone for?
  • How often will the child be left alone?
  • Where will the child be left?
  • Are there any other children in the household?
  • Are there any obvious risks?
  • Would they know what to do in an emergency?
  • How does the child feel about being at home alone?
  • Be aware that the length of the time the child is left alone for will affect whether it is reasonable to leave your child home alone.

What should I do before leaving a child at home alone?

  • Leave your child with a contact telephone number so they can reach you if they need to.
  • Be available to return home straight away if required.
  • Explain to your child the potential dangers of being left at home alone.
  • Talk to your child about keeping safe at home.
  • Give clear instructions about what to do if there is an emergency.
  • Make sure your child knows how to contact emergency services and ensure that there is always someone they know who they can contact in an emergency.
  • Leave a list of trusted people they can contact.
  • If you have neighbours who you can trust inform them and ask them to keep an eye out in case there is an emergency.
  • Explain to your child who they can contact if they need to and not to be worried about doing so.
  • Put obvious dangers out of their reach.
  • Look out for potential risks and eliminate them.
  • Make sure that your child is happy about the arrangements.
  • Tell your child what time you are expected back and make sure that you are back on time.

How old does a babysitter have to be?

There is no minimum legal age requirement for a person to be able to babysit.

A parent should choose a babysitter who is over the age of 16; if you wish to consider someone under the age of 16, you should carefully assess the babysitter.

Under some circumstances, parents can be prosecuted if any harm comes to their child whilst a babysitter under the age of 16 is supervising.

If a parent decides to leave their child with a babysitter who is under 16, the parent must be prepared to take responsibility for anything that should go wrong in their absence. The parent is still responsible for the care and safety of their child.