Preventing family breakdown and youth homelessness: what works? February 2016

Please note that NEHTT is a third party partner and not part of Youth Homeless North East

Families under pressure: 
Preventing family breakdown and youth homelessness

Two thirds of the young people who come to Centrepoint left home due to family relationship breakdown. This loss of family stability can have a devastating impact as young people transition to independence.

Our research establishes the factors which push family relationships to breaking point, according to homeless young people and the practitioners who support them. We also collected data from 82% of English local authorities through Freedom of Information requests, to generate a national picture of services on offer to families at risk of relationship breakdown.

Policy context

Family stability has been at the centre of policy making in recent years:

  • An increased investment in marriage preparation and couple counselling
  • The introduction of the Family Test
  • A new Life Chances Strategy, including family breakdown as a measure of poverty
  • Cross-party support for early intervention, though low investment in it with the loss of the Early Intervention Grant
  • The Troubled Families Programme for the hardest to reach families
  • However, welfare reform has hit some of the most vulnerable families hardest

Research findings

The accounts of staff and young people highlight common issues which place families under pressure. Worryingly, young people had experienced many of these factors and described how their families had struggled to cope with the cumulative impact.

Low resilience was said to make it very difficult for families to navigate through difficult situations. When crisis hits, families are unable to reach a positive solution and relationships break down.

Support for families at risk of relationship breakdown

72% of local authorities offer services in their area for young people at risk of homelessness due to family breakdown to prevent them from leaving home

  • 74% of local authorities offer mediation. However, this was often offered in-house and was not impartial or delivered by trained mediators. There was also a lack of evaluation.
  • 73% would refer a family at risk of relationship breakdown to the Troubled Families programme. To be eligible families must meet certain criteria
  • Only 58% offer parenting programmes for parents of teenagers
  • 40% would offer respite to families at risk of relationship breakdown, giving families time apart to resolve problems
  • Access to good quality information and advice is really important, but unfortunately many young people do not get it
  • Young people would like the opportunity to learn from peers, who have been through the same things as they have

Key recommendations

Local authorities need the resources to shift from a focus on crisis intervention to early intervention

  • Make five year protected early intervention minimum spending commitments, providing local authorities with the stability to plan prevention services in the longer term

Young people and their families need access to good quality advice and information as early as possible

  • Local authorities should monitor the quality of information given by their housing options team to those at risk of homelessness, providing evidence that information is regularly updated and accessible

The quality of and access to mediation services needs to improve

  • The Government should conduct a national review of mediation services offered by local authorities to better understand the efficacy of different approaches, cost effectiveness and likelihood of achieving improved family relationships in the long term

The Government must think beyond marital relationships and recognise the importance of wider family relationship stability

  • Include parental-child relationship breakdown in the Life Chances Strategy as an indicator of poor outcomes
  • Expand the current mediation programme for separating couples entering the court system to whole families in crisis at an earlier point, before they enter legal proceedings
  • Ensure the Family Test is applied to all policy reform. The results of the test should always be documented and made public and wherever possible, open to public consultation

The Troubled Families programme should include a mechanism to catch young people at risk of homelessness, who don’t meet other criteria

  • Add ‘young person at risk of homelessness’ to the ‘Children who need help’ set of Troubled Families indicators
  • Make clear in guidance that estranged young people should be offered support as part of the Troubled Families team’s whole family approach, regardless of the fact they no longer live at home

Download the seminar slides



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