Home Alone? Childcare for over 12's

Red backpack on young person's back

Although your child may be aged 12 years or older, you as the parent/carer are best placed to know whether your child is mature, sensible and trustworthy enough to be left home alone for a couple of hours after school until you can return home from work. There may be circumstances or additional needs, where your child would not be safe being left at home by themselves.

Registered Childcare for 0-12 Years

The Minimum Standards were introduced in Northern Ireland in 2012 for Childminding and Day Care for Children Under Age 12.  The Minimum Standards for Childminding and Daycare were developed to clarify the requirements that are contained within The Children (NI) Order 1995 (the child protection legislative framework for Northern Ireland which covers Childminding and Day Care for Young Children).   

The Early Years Teams within the Health & Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland are responsible for ensuring that Registered Childcare providers in Northern Ireland comply with the Minimum Standards.  

In short, this means that registered childcare provision in Northern Ireland covers children in the 0-12 years age bracket.

My child is older than 12 years but not capable of being at home on his/her own?

12 years of age is only a suggested age that a child may be mature and responsible enough to be left alone for a longer period of time, such as after school for a couple of hours.  Each child is individual and there may be circumstances where it would not be safe to leave a child of this age home alone.  

Although the remit of the Early Years Teams in Northern Ireland finishes at 12 years, you should contact your local Early Years Team to discuss your individual circumstances.

If you have found a childminder/out of school facility that are willing to look after your older child, they should discuss this with their registering Early Years Team/Social Worker. The Early Years Team will ask the Childcare Provider to complete a Risk Assessment, check their insurance and will adjust the registered number of children they can look after accordingly. You should not leave your child with a Registered Childcare Provider that has not first sought advice from their Early Years Team.

Home Alone - Points to Consider

You should carefully consider whether your child could come to any risk by being home alone.  Speak to your child to find out how they feel, they may feel excited at the possibility of the extra independence, or they may feel scared to be left on their own.  You can find useful advice and points to consider on the following links, which should help you decide if it is safe.

Recommendations made by NSPCC suggest:

  • Children under 12 years of age are seldom responsible enough to be left alone for a long period of time
  • You should not leave children under 16 years of age alone overnight
  • Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone

If you still cannot decide whether it is safe to leave your child home alone, the following organisations can provide you with free, impartial advice:

CiNI - Parentline NI, Freephone: 0808 8020 400 or Email: parentline@ci-ni.org.uk (Mon-Thurs 9am-9pm, Fri 9am-5pm & Sat 9am-1pm). This service is also offered face to face or via online webchat.

Parenting NI - Freephone Support Service: 0808 8010 722 (Mon-Thurs 9.30am-3.30pm & Fri 9.30am-12.30pm)

Home Alone - The Law

The law doesn't state an age when you can leave your child home alone, but it is an offence to leave a child home alone if it places them at risk.

Useful guidance on Family Law can be found on the Children's Law Centre website, which covers the topic of children being left at home.

Staying Safe

Take some time to sit down with your child to discuss how they would cope or react in the case of an accident or emergency situation.

Set some basic rules of what your child can and can’t do while you’re out.  Do they have easy access to a telephone and have your telephone number to hand? Can you answer your phone quickly if they ring? Is there a responsible, trustworthy adult close by that they can contact quickly in an emergency? 

Preparing your child to prevent or deal with situations as they may arise can go some way to reassuring parent and child.

The following links may be helpful:

Accidents & Home Safety -

ROSPA - Preventing Accidents in the Home

ROSPA - Home Safety

Fire Safety at Home -

Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service - Fire Safety in the Home

Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service - Free Home Fire Safety Check

First Aid -

NI Direct - First Aid

British Red Cross -First Aid Learning for Young People

British Red Cross - Free First Aid App (First Aid at your fingertips)

Check callers are Genuine -

PSNI - Quick Check Scheme (Check callers to your home are genuine)

Online Safety - 

Think U Know - Protecting children both online and offline

NSPCC - Online Safety

The Underwear Rule - 

NSPCC - Talk PANTS (teach your child how to stay safe from abuse)

Report Child Abuse

If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk or is being abused, you should contact the Social Services Gateway Team (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm exc. bank hols):

  • Belfast HSC Trust Tel: 028 9050 7000
  • South Eastern HSC Trust Tel: 0300 1000 300
  • Northern HSC Trust Tel: 0300 1234 333
  • Southern HSC Trust: Tel: 0800 7837 745
  • Western HSC Trust Tel: 028 7131 4090

Emergency Social Work Number: 028 9504 9999 (for emergencies only outside office working hours).

If the child is in immediate danger you should telephone 999.

Related Documents

NSPCC Home Alone Guide

Last Updated: 24/11/2020