PG20. Home Alone

For a record of all amendments and updates, see the Amendments & Archives.

Specific definitions of key concepts used by safeguarding practitioners are available through the Glossary.

1. Introduction

Caption: Introduction table


The law is not clear because it does not state an age when children can be left alone. However, parents can be prosecuted for wilful neglect if they leave a child unsupervised 'in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health' (Children and Young Persons Act, 1933).


Nor does the law state an age when young people can baby-sit. However, where a baby-sitter is under the age of 16 years, parents remain legally responsible to ensure that their child comes to no harm.


This is, in part, in recognition that all children are different and demonstrate different levels of maturity and responsibility.


In any situation where a child is left alone, consideration should be given to the context (e.g. the ages, needs and maturity of the children, the length of time involved, the frequency of such incidents, the safety of the location and any other relevant factors). Having taken into account the circumstances above, the key question to ask is was the child left to their own fate?

2. Responses to Situations

Caption: Responses to Situations


If the child is already known to local authority children's social care, professionals should check whether the case record indicates a plan of action to take if the child is found alone. It may be that the file indicates the need for police protection or an application for an emergency protection order in these circumstances.


In any case, if immediate protection of the child is assessed to be necessary, professionals should:

  • Either under police protection or EPO, take the child to a suitable place and arrange a placement;
  • If entry cannot be gained to an unsupervised child, obtain police assistance by contacting the police CAIT or the local police station:
    • When an emergency protection order is made, a warrant authorising any constable to assist in entering and searching the named premises can be obtained (Children Act 1989, s48);
    • In dire emergencies, the police can exercise their powers under s17(1)e of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to enter and search premises without a warrant for the purposes of saving life and limb. If this action is taken, the police may consider it appropriate for the child/ren to be placed in police protection (Children Act 1989, s46).
  • Leave a note for the parent or responsible adult, giving all information regarding the action to be taken and the reason, and advising them of what to do. If English is not the first language the note should be translated;
  • Collect the child's immediate necessities and familiar toys. Ensure the child understands as far as is possible what is happening, recognising that being taken away from home by unknown adults (one of whom may be in uniform) may be understandably more frightening to the child than being left alone.


If immediate protection is assessed as not necessary, professionals should:

  • Establish the child's understanding of the whereabouts of the parent or responsible person and of the arrangements made;
  • If the parent can be located, reunite parent and child and advise the parent of the dangers of leaving children alone;
  • If the parent or responsible person seems likely to return shortly, wait with the child;
  • If the parent or responsible adult has not returned within 30 minutes, either arrange for another responsible person to take responsibility for the child, or remove the child. A suitably responsible person could be a neighbour, relatives, someone with parental responsibility or a residence order, or friends known to and trusted by the child and professionals.

3. Subsequent Action

Caption: Subsequent Action


On finding that a child has been left alone, it will be appropriate for consideration to be given to whether there needs to be further involvement with the family. An assessment of need, including the need for protection, should always be undertaken to see if there are identifiable needs within the family and for the child. The decision made and the reasons for this must be recorded.

4. Child Left Alone in a Public Place

Caption: Child Left Alone in a Public Place


A child inappropriately left alone in a public place will normally be dealt with in the first instance by the police.

5. Bed and Breakfast Accommodation

Caption: Bed and Breakfast Accommodation


A child left alone in a room in bed and breakfast accommodation, where no suitable arrangements have been made by the parent/s to supervise the child, will be treated the same as a child left alone in a household, even where there are other adults present in the accommodation.

6. Messages for Parents

Caption: Messages for Parents


For further information and advice for parents, see the NSPCC leaflet Home alone: guidance for parents, available at