As the school summer holidays get well underway, mums – and dads across Manchester and indeed the whole country – will be worrying about whether or not their kids are safe while they’re stuck at work.
Deciding if your child is ready to be left alone, or in fact to go out alone can be a very difficult decision for parents to make.
During the summer holidays the NSPCC receive an increased number of calls regarding whether children can be left alone, last year 138 contacts were received from concerned adults.
In response to this, and to help parents, the charity has issued new guides containing advice for parents and carers as well as putting more information on its website.
A spokesperson from their Manchester branch said: “The summer school break can be great for kids but it’s also a time when they might be left alone for long periods.
“That’s why the NSPCC has developed its Home Alone and Out Alone guides for parents and carers, to help them decide when their child is ready, and what parents can do if their children are still too young.
“The NSPCC’s helpline is also available 24/7 on 0808 800 5000. It’s available for parents if they want advice, or for anyone who may have a concern about a child who they feel may be too young to be on their own or who is being left alone for too long.”
Contrary to common belief, there is no set age for leaving children home alone – the law simply states that the child should not be left alone if they are at risk.
This means the decision depends on the maturity and responsibility of a child and how sensible their parent or guardian considers them to be.
The obvious things to consider are whether the child is capable of getting themselves a drink or food to eat, whether they know how to contact you and what to do in an emergency whether they would know what to do if someone came to the door.
On top of this The NSPCC has issued the following basic tips to aid parents’ decisions further:
- Never leave a baby or young child home alone, not even for a few minutes – whether they’re sleeping or awake. Most accidents happen at home, and children under the age of five are most at risk of getting hurt.
- Even if a child is approaching 12, they may not be mature enough to cope with an emergency. If they do need to be left, parents/carer should make sure it’s only for a short time.
- If leaving an older child alone, make sure they’re happy about the arrangement and know when and how to contact a trusted adult and the emergency services.
- If a child is under 16 they shouldn’t be left alone overnight.
- Children should be taught what to do if there’s a problem and need to know how to reach their parent/carer. It’s also a good idea to leave a list of trusted people for them to go to or call, such as a neighbour or relative.
The NSPCC have also launched a Home Alone leaflet next week, including more guidance on the issue and tips for choosing a babysitter which can also be found here.
Leaving a child alone at home is one thing, but when they begin to ask to go out alone it can be even more worrying.
It can be hard for mums and dads to overcome the hurdle, but it is a vital part of the child establishing their growing independence.
Similarly to leaving a child home alone, the law doesn’t specify a set age, it just depends on where they’re going ,what they’re planning to do, who they’re going with and how they can be reached.
Here is some advice from the NSPCC’s Out Alone guide to help prepare for this step:
- It’s a good idea for parents/carers to talk about how their child can keep themselves safe whenever out together. For example, asking them about how they know when it’s safe to cross a road; what to do if a stranger starts talking to them; or if other children start to bully them.
- Let children know where they can and can’t go, set a definite time for them to come home, and explain why these rules are important.
- It’s a good idea to have a test run before letting them go out on their own for the very first time – letting them lead the way and only stepping in if they put themselves in danger.
- Sometimes a child will try to persuade their parent/carer that they’ll be fine to go out alone. But parents/carers shouldn’t feel pressurised.
- Even after they start going out on their own, it’s a good idea to keep discussing safety outside the home with the child, remind them of the dangers and show an interest in who the child is spending time with.
- If there’s anything that doesn’t seem quite right – like them being secretive or coming home with new belongings they can’t explain – parents/carers should definitely look into the reasons why.
More advice about this, including how to make sure your child is safe in clubs, playing sport and other activities, is available here.
Image courtesy of Catrin Austin, with thanks.