A generation of children alone in the home

14th July 2016

  • 1.3 million parents with children aged 5-7 would leave their child unsupervised.
  • 32 per cent of parents who leave their children aged 8-9 unsupervised feel they are old enough to look after themselves.
  • One-in-five (20 per cent) parents have left their 8-9 year old home alone overnight in the last 12 months.
  • Parents have returned home to damaged furniture and electrical goods, and even injuries as a result of leaving their children unsupervised.
  • While the law doesn’t specify an age when parents can legally leave their child on their own, it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.

More than nine million1 (76 per cent) parents would leave their children home alone, or unsupervised, according to new research from Churchill Home Insurance2. Even more alarming is that a number of parents have left children home alone overnight in the last 12 months. A fifth (20 per cent) have left 8-9 year olds alone overnight, eight per cent have left 5-7 year olds alone overnight and 13 per cent have left 10-11 year olds alone overnight.

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of parents with children aged 5-7 will leave their child unsupervised for an average of 24 minutes, with more than one in 10 (12 per cent) willing to do so for at least 30 minutes.

Table one: Maximum amount of time parents would leave their children home alone, unsupervised, by child age.

Child age Percentage of parents who would leave their children unsupervised Average maximum time left unsupervised for
5-7 28% 24 minutes
8-9 51% 43 minutes
10-11 66% 35 minutes
12-13 87% 96 minutes
14-15 95% 3 hours 33 minutes
16-17 98% 11 hours 17 minutes

Source: Churchill Home Insurance 2016

More than half (51 per cent) of parents with children aged 8-9 would leave their children unsupervised at home. While the average time parents are willing to leave 8-9 year olds unsupervised for is 43 minutes, 12 per cent of parents would leave their children unsupervised at home for 3-6 hours.

Men are more likely to leave young children alone than women. Double the amount of men would leave 5-7 year olds unsupervised (40 per cent vs 19 per cent of women) and significantly more men would leave 8-9 year olds unsupervised (63 per cent vs 39 per cent). The gender difference disappears once children reach the age of 12.

Martin Scott, head of Churchill home insurance said: “We urge parents to follow the advice from the NSPCC which is not to leave children alone, as those under 12 in particular are rarely able to look after themselves.”

When asked why they would leave their children unsupervised at home, nearly half (46 per cent) of parents that have left their children aged 5-7 unsupervised said: “It’s OK if it’s only for a short time.” While others said it’s because, “they cannot afford a babysitter” (15 per cent). One in six (16 per cent) parents of 5-7 year olds believes their children are old enough to look after themselves.

Table two: Reasons why parents leave their children unsupervised at home

Aged 5-7 Aged 8-9 Aged 10-11 Aged 12-13 Aged 14-15 Aged 16-17
I feel children are old enough to look after themselves 16% 32% 26% 46% 65% 78%
I can’t afford a babysitter/supervisor 15% 12% 11% 5% 1% 2%
It’s only for a short time so feel they will be OK 46% 37% 49% 36% 22% 10%
I don’t have anyone who can babysit/supervise 3% 7% 4% 6% 3% 0%
I want to go out and feel they will be OK 4% 2% 3% 3% 3% 5%
I have to leave them at home as I work long hours 0% 2% 2% 1% 4% 1%

Source: Churchill Home Insurance 2016

Nearly a third (32 per cent) of parents who have left their children aged 8-9 unsupervised feel their children are old enough to look after themselves at that age, while one in 10 (12 per cent) say they are unable to afford a babysitter.

Despite having the confidence that their children will be fine left alone, nearly half (49 per cent) of parents with who left their children aged 5-7 alone have had problems as a result of children being unaware of the consequences of what they were doing. One in 10 (11 per cent) report that they have returned to damaged rugs/carpets, whilst a further nine per cent said their child had damaged electrical goods.

Table three: Consequences of children left unsupervised at home

Aged 5-7 Aged 8-9 Aged 10-11
Damaged furnishings / rug / carpet 16% 25% 5%
Injured another child 15% 25% 5%
Tried on clothes / make up without permission 10% 6% 9%
Cooking accident 9% 7% 4%
Damaged electrical goods 9% 22% 8%
Caused a fire or flood / escape of water 8% 8% 4%
Child injured themselves 6% 22% 3%
Invited friends round unapproved 6% 19% 8%
Left property unlocked and unattended 6% 5% 5%
Injured a family pet 5% 4% 5%
Set off fire / smoke alarm 5% 5% 5%

Source: Churchill Home Insurance

One in five (22 per cent) parents who have left children aged 8-9 unsupervised have returned to find damaged electrical goods. Children of this age group have also injured themselves (22 per cent) or another child (25 per cent) while left unsupervised.

Martin Scott continued: “Our research shows that there are a number of unintended consequences caused by leaving children alone. They could injure themselves, or others, or cause damage to the home and its contents. Comprehensive home insurance, including cover for accidental damage, can help protect householders if their children are unaware of the consequences of their actions and accidentally damage the home or expensive household items.”

While the law doesn’t specify an age when parents can leave their child on their own, it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk3.

The NSPCC4 offers the following advice to parents:

  • Babies, toddlers and 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 a long period of time.
  • Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.
  • A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, 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 think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out – would they both be safe?
    • Notes to editors

      1. Number of parents with children aged 5-17 = 12,352,358 – 76% would leave their child alone or unsupervised = 9,377,792
      2. Research conducted by Opinium Research with a representative sample of 1,005 UK parents of children aged 5-17 between 3-10 June 2016
      3. https://www.gov.uk/law-on-leaving-your-child-home-alone
      4. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/leaving-child-home-alone

      For further information, please contact:

      Claire Foster
      Churchill PR Manager
      Tel: 01651831672 / 07525665504
      Email: claire.foster@directlinegroup.co.uk

      Antonia Green
      Citigate Dewe Rogerson
      Tel: 0207 282 2967
      Email: antonia.green@citigatedr.co.uk

      Churchill

      Founded in 1989, Churchill is now one of the UK’s leading providers of general insurance, offering car, home, travel and pet insurance cover over the phone or on-line.

      Churchill general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England and Wales No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

      Churchill and U K Insurance Limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

      Customers can find out more about Churchill products or get a quote by calling 0300 200300 or visiting www.churchill.com