'Dirty and unkempt' - childrens' charity report summer spike in youngsters being left at home alone
PUBLISHED: 08:19 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 08:19 31 July 2019
Tom Hull Photography 2016
A national children's charity has raised concerns about a spike in youngsters being left at home alone during the school holidays.
A 21pc increase in reports of children being left unsupervised coincided with the summer break last year, said the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), who made 70 referrals following fears for the safety of children in Norfolk.
The charity said it received a third (32pc) of all its 5,737 calls and emails from adults worried about youngsters in 2018-19 during the summer, and warned parents to think carefully before leaving children alone.
Louise Exton, NSPCC helpline manager, said: "Summer holidays can be fun 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 a spike in calls.
"Leaving your child home alone can be a difficult decision as children mature at different ages.
"Parents are best placed to know what is right for their child, but we would urge them to think carefully when deciding if their child could cope."
The charity said of the 1,824 contacts to the helpline during July, August and September 2018, 70pc (1,274) were judged worrying enough to be passed on to police or social services, including 70 referrals in Norfolk.
In 2017-18 the helpline received 1,511 contacts during July, August and September 2017 about the same issue, making it a 21pc increase the following year.
Calls to the NSPCC throughout a year totalled 5,737, and included reports of children being left overnight, young children left to feed themselves and use kitchen equipment and siblings fighting over iPads and games.
One 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.
"The last time I saw him he looked really unhappy."
One caller told the NSPCC: "I have had these concerns for a while but I am only reporting it now because it seems to have got worse.
"The children are home alone again; the mum hasn't been home and the children have been alone all night. She does this every Friday night to go out drinking with her mates and often taking drugs.
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"It has happened before in the past and I'm really confused about what to do as I don't want to ruin the relationship with the mother as she might stop me from seeing the children. But I feel like I have to because what's happening is wrong."
And another caller told the NSPCC of their fears of neglect, saying: "I'm really concerned about the welfare of my neighbour's children.
"I think the children are being neglected. The mother is currently in the hospital with the baby who has been having health issues.
"At home, I've noticed that their eldest child, who is eight, is left unsupervised for extended periods while the father goes out.
"I've seen the children and they appear to be dirty and unkempt."
There is no legal minimum age at which children can be left on their own, but parents and carers can be prosecuted for cruelty to a child, including abandonment, neglect and failure to protect, if children are put at risk.
The NSPCC's helpline is available seven days a week on 0808 800 5000 for free and confidential advice.
Guidance from charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) states:
- 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 long periods of time;
- Children under the age of 16 should not be left at home 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, parents and carers should think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?