Derbyshire parents are being urged to think carefully before leaving their children unsupervised during the school holidays.
Children's charity the NSPCC said it saw a 21 per cent rise in contacts from adults concerned about youngsters being left home alone last summer.
Of the 5,737 calls and emails the organisation's helpline received in 2018/19, 17 in Derby and 60 in Derbyshire were referred to police, social services or other agencies as they were judged to be so serious.
Nearly a third of all calls and emails from across England and Wales were made between July and September, when children are away from school for around six weeks.
Throughout the year, callers reported children being left alone overnight, young children left to feed themselves and use dangerous kitchen equipment and siblings fighting over iPads and games.
A 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. He doesn't have any friends or family in the new town so all he can do is play on his game station all day. The last time I saw him he looked really unhappy.”
Although the law does not give a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents and carers can be prosecuted for cruelty to a child, which includes neglect, abandonment and failure to protect, if children are put at risk of suffering or injury.
Louise Exton, NSPCC helpline manager said: “Summer holidays can be a fun time 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 why we see a spike in calls to our helpline during these months.
“Leaving your child home alone can be a difficult decision as children mature at different ages – there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. Parents are best placed to know what is right for their child so it’s vital there is flexibility for them to decide, but we would urge them to think carefully and use their common sense when deciding if their child could cope.”
This is what the NSPCC says about leaving children home alone
* 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 a long period of time.
* Children under the age of 16 should not be left 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 think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?
The charity is also encouraging parents to use the start of the summer holidays to remind their children about staying safe online, as inevitably they will be gaming and using their mobiles a lot more.
Laura Randall, NSPCC Associate Head of Child Safety Online said: “One of the best ways for parents to keep their children safe is by having regular conversations about what they are doing online – similar to finding out about their day at home or school. Parents will be able to spot any problems, and should encourage their child to come to them if they’re worried, as well as make sure their child knows what’s ok to share online - and what’s not.
“Today’s children don’t see the division between online and offline worlds, so it is vital that parents talk to them about the possible dangers they could face online, and how to protect themselves. Just as you would with all the offline places they socialise and play.”
Anyone with concerns about a child being left home alone, or parents seeking advice, can contact the free helpline on 0808 800 5000 or visit www.nspcc.org.uk.