Family breakdown harms children’s mental health

Children are increasingly suffering from mental ill health, a new report has found, with family breakdown a major cause.

In the report, from the Good Childhood Inquiry, family relationships were identified as being central to children’s well-being, with one author commenting that it’s not just the event of family breakdown itself but the life that has to be lived afterwards that causes harm.

The report was based on the responses of thousands of children to the study which was commissioned by The Children’s Society in 2006. It found that one in four under-16s regularly feel depressed, with peer pressure and worries about physical appearance also listed as causes.

A poll of adults, conducted alongside the Inquiry, found that almost a third – 29 per cent – believed that family breakdown was to blame for harming children’s well being. A fifth of those asked named peer pressure.

One of the report’s authors, Stephen Scott, Professor of Child Health and Behaviour at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, described how family breakdown can harm children’s mental health.

He said: “It is as much about the problems arising from family breakdown as the event itself. Young people don’t like being in different homes on different days of the week and get upset by strife between their parents.”

The findings follow a recent spate of warnings from legal professionals, teachers and other experts that family breakdown is harming children.

Last week a report from teachers’ union NASUWT said that children often joined gangs to seek the security they lacked at home. The Social Justice Commission also reported last week that children whose families break down often face a bleak future as a result.

Mr Justice Coleridge, a High Court judge, recently said that family breakdown was among the most serious social problems facing British society, and tackling it should be placed at the top of the Government’s agenda.

He said: “What is certain is that almost all of society’s social ills can be traced directly to the collapse of the family life.”