Child found unattended at home - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding responding to children who have been left home unattended.
Document ID number 2357, version 2, 1 March 2016.


Refer to the procedure Child found unattended at home for actions that must be taken.

If a child or children are found to be unattended at home, the child protection practitioner does not have the authority to enter the home and should not accept an invitation from a child to enter the home. Child protection practitioners do not have the authority to enter any home without the consent of the occupier.

Limited exception

The exception to the above is if a child protection practitioner believes a child is in significant and imminent danger inside the home. In such circumstances it is appropriate to take only those steps that are necessary and reasonable to remove the child from such danger. The practitioner may need to be able to justify the action in any later proceedings (for example, for trespass). Being a child protection practitioner does not convey any additional authority in these circumstances.

How to resolve the situation

Where a child is found unattended at home, a child protection practitioner shall remain at the home until the situation has been resolved.

The child protection practitioner should assess the child's safety having regard to all the circumstances, including the child's age and stage of development. The practitioner may contact their supervisor to determine how child protection should respond.

The child may speak with the child protection practitioner while the practitioner remains outside the home. If so, the child protection practitioner's role and mandate should be explained in an age appropriate manner to the child, and attempts can be made to gain information from the child about their immediate situation, the whereabouts of their parents, any arrangements in place for their supervision and care, and the length of time they have been unattended.

The child may come outside, in which case the child protection practitioner would be in a position, if necessary, to place them in emergency care and issue a protection application.

It may be necessary to call the police to seek urgent assistance or apply for a search warrant with a view to enabling the police to gain entry to the home.

If the parents cannot be located after reasonable enquiries, and no other suitable person can be found who is willing and able to care for the child, it may be necessary to place the child in emergency care and issue a protection application or, where there is a current order, a breach of order application.

Criminal offence

Where it is believed that the circumstances under which the child has been found may constitute an offence under s. 494 CYFA, the matter should be reported to the police. In deciding whether to report the matter to police, issues to consider include any arrangements for the child's supervision and care and the length of time the child has been unattended.

Where police are considering a prosecution under this section, they cannot proceed without consultation with the Secretary.

Considerations for good practice

How to react

Remain calm and respond to the child in a reassuring manner. Give the child accurate, age appropriate information about what will happen.

If possible:

  • engage the child in conversation and encourage them to come outside to speak with you
  • find out how long they have been alone, when a parent or carer is expected, and what emergency arrangements they have.

Try to establish contact details for a parent and, if this is not possible, for another adult in their family network (for example, grandparent). They may be able to show you an address book, or a list of contact numbers.

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