Welfare concerns were the main reason Bay of Plenty Police took action against more than 70 people across the region for leaving children unsupervised in the past five years.
In New Zealand, it's against the law to leave children aged under 14 without making reasonable provisions for their care and supervision.
Parents or caregivers should always have an idea of where their children were and what they were doing, Oranga Tamariki chief social worker Andrea Nichols said.
However, that was not always the case, as evidenced by New Zealand Police figures provided through the Official Information Act.
Seventy-one people had action taken against them for neglecting children in the Bay of Plenty between 2016 and 2020. There were 664 total proceedings nationwide.
The Bay of Plenty had the third-highest total behind Counties Manukau with 145, and Auckland City with 72 over the same five-year period.
New Zealand Police community partnerships and prevention acting director Inspector Natasha Allan said there were a number of risks associated with neglecting children.
"These can include the potential for children to be exposed to hazards that put their safety at risk, inability to access food or toileting requirements and the likelihood that some children might experience anxiety or fear when left alone," she said.
It did not matter if children were at home, in a vehicle or public space, children not under reasonable supervision of an adult or person older than 14 could be classed as unsupervised.
Police commonly assisted other agencies who requested their help but concerns raised by neighbours, family or members of the public resulted in assistance too, Allan said.
When attending incidents, officers consider the maturity level of a child, how long they were unsupervised, how often it happens, and any potential risks or hazards.
The nationwide total of proceedings has been declining steadily each year since 2016 when 222 were undertaken compared to just 75 in 2020.
Despite this, Allan said she was "unable to comment" on the figures because police had not undertaken any specific analysis on the decline.
Over the five years, the majority of proceedings resulted in non-court action.
However, the judge's gavel fell on 110 parents, 11 family members and 13 non-family members. Court action details were not provided.
Non-court action included educating offenders, formal written warnings, referrals to support agencies and in some cases, a notification to Oranga Tamariki, Allan said.
When cases were raised with Oranga Tamariki, they were often about more than one care and protection concern and were often "quite complex," Nichols said.
"Some examples of leaving children unsupervised could be parents working nights or not being home after school without adequate supervision arrangements for their tamariki," she said.
"When we become aware that te tamaiti [the child] has been left at home alone or unsupervised in another place, we need to assess whether there is evidence of supervisory neglect."
An Oranga Tamariki investigators' assessments relied on a number of individual and environmental factors, including children's age and maturity level, time and frequency unsupervised, any discussions had to manage emergencies and whether they know how and who they can contact for help, and whether potential risks or hazard had been considered.
"Assessing supervisory neglect depends on many factors and doesn't solely rely on the chronological age of 14," Nichols said.
"We need to take a commonsense approach within the context of the family/whānau lifestyle."
Education was part of the approach in dealing with people who neglected children but depended on individual circumstances and the seriousness of the concerns.
If a social worker had concerns about a child's safety, they could work with the whānau to come up with a safety plan or, with consent, refer them to community support services.