Leaving your child at home alone – what the law says and how to know when they're ready

It's a bone of contention among parents and guardians from all corners of the UK: at what age can you trust your child to be left home alone? Some people wait until their children reach their teenage years before leaving them home unsupervised while others say their kids are responsible enough to be left home alone at a significantly younger age.

UK law doesn't pinpoint a precise age at which you're allowed to leave a child alone. But it states that it's an offence to do so "if it places them at risk".

Each child is unique and with different behavioural traits, personalities, and levels of understanding and responsibility the answer will differ from one child to another. For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter.

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Parents and carers are advised to use their judgement when determining whether their child is ready to be left home alone or, for example, on their own in a car. They are advised not to take this step until they're absolutely confident their child is mature enough and ready for the responsibility – especially in situations where they need to care for other children or pets in the absence of adults.

While the UK Government does not set a specific age for when children can be left alone it does provide legal guidance and endorses NSPCC advice. The NSPCC suggests that children aged between six and 12 are "rarely mature enough" to be left home alone.

It recommends that children under 16 should not be left alone overnight. It is also advised that babies, toddlers, and very young children should "never" be left unattended. According to the UK Government website parents could face prosecution if they leave a child unsupervised. It states: "Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised 'in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health'."

The NSPCC highlights that there isn't a universal rule for when it's appropriate to leave children at home by themselves as maturity varies from child to child. The NSPCC states: "Learning to be independent is an important part of growing up. Between work, appointments, and other family commitments every parent may need to leave their child home alone at some point so it's good to have a plan in place. You might wonder what age your child should be before they can be left alone at home. But there's no 'one-size-fits all' answer. Every child is different so build up their independence at their pace and check in with them to make sure they feel safe."

The guidance advises: "A child who isn't old enough or who doesn't feel comfortable should never be left home alone. If this is the case it's best to look into childcare options that might work for your family."

The NSPCC also says infants and young children up to the age of three should never be left unattended even for a brief period. "Infants and young children aged nought to three years old should never be left alone even for 15 minutes while you pop down the road. This applies not just to leaving them home alone but also in your car while you run into the shops," the charity advises.

"While every child is different we wouldn't recommend leaving a child under 12 years old home alone particularly for longer periods of time. Children in primary school aged six to 12 are usually too young to walk home from school alone, babysit, or cook for themselves without adult supervision. If you need to leave them home it's worth considering leaving them at a friend's house, with family, or finding some suitable childcare."

The guidance also cautions against leaving children under 12 years old on their own especially for extended durations. The NSPCC suggests that primary school-aged children from six to 12 are generally too immature to safely navigate walking home from school by themselves, babysitting, or cooking without an adult present.

For those times when parents must leave home it recommends considering alternative options such as arranging for the child to stay with friends, family, or seeking appropriate childcare. Get the best user experience with WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android.

For parents with older children the NSPCC offers further advice: "Once your child reaches this age you could talk to them about how they'd feel if they were left alone at home. Whether they're 12 years old or almost 18 years old there might be reasons that they don't feel safe in the house alone.

"Just because your child is older doesn't necessarily mean they're ready to look after themselves or know what to do in an emergency. It can help to go over the ground rules and remind them how to stay safe at home. Remember you should never leave a child home alone if they don't feel ready or if you don't feel they're ready. Sometimes it's just better to leave them with someone particularly if they're nervous or have complex needs."