Families under pressure: preventing family breakdown and youth homelessness

Our research looks at the key reasons why relationships breakdown and the kinds of pressures faced by families.

Executive summary

Two thirds (59 per cent) of the young people who come to Centrepoint had to leave home because of family relationship breakdown. Wider evidence also indicates that a breakdown in family relationships is the main cause of youth homelessness.

In this research we examine the factors leading to family relationship breakdown according to homeless young people and the practitioners who support them. This gives insight into what was going on at home for these young people before they became homeless. The factors which were common across young people’s accounts are explored in this report. This report also explores the political context in which local services and family support services are operating.

Key findings and recommendations


  • The accounts of staff and young people highlight common issues which place families under pressure, ranging from macro structural factors to individual factors. These factors are often mutually reinforcing. For example, unemployment can cause poverty but can also be the result of living in poverty. This complexity makes it very difficult to work out cause and effect.

Financial pressure

  • Central to the accounts of staff and young people was the strain that living on a low income, whether through low paid work or benefits, places on family relationships.
  • Poverty was said to have a detrimental effect on young people’s aspirations, the quality of local amenities, the quality of housing and safety within communities.
  • Parental unemployment was common amongst many of the families who had experienced family breakdown.
  • For some families who are struggling financially, debt also became a normal part of life
  • The difficulties faced by families living on a low income meant that some young people were under pressure to leave home if they were unable to contribute financially
  • The negative impact of living on a low income also had an effect on parental relationships

Cultural differences

  • Some young people struggled to balance the culture of their family heritage and the culture of being a teenager in Britain. If a young person acted in a way that went against the expectations of their parent’s culture, this could lead to relationship breakdown.

Peer influence

  • Parents were worried about where their children were and who they were with, which was a key source of conflict
  • Young people reported that many of the local facilities they had once used had closed and this greatly impacted their communities


  • Practitioners described how young people’s involvement in low level crime had escalated to the point of family relationship breakdown, with parents trying to tackle the behaviour themselves.

Poor mental health and wellbeing

  • Poor parental mental health can place great pressure on young people within the family.
  • When young people do not get the necessary support for their own mental health needs it can also lead to the breakdown of family relationships and homelessness

Poor transitions from care

  • This research indicates that many young people who experienced family breakdown and homelessness were on the edge of the care system


The Government should:

  • Make five year protected early intervention minimum spending commitment
  • Conduct a national review of mediation services
  • Ensure the Family Test is applied to all policy reform
  • Include parental-child relationship breakdown in the Life Chances Strategy as an indicator of poor outcomes

The Department for Communities and Local Government should:

  • 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

Local authorities should:

  • Monitor the quality of information given by their housing options team to those at risk of homelessness
  • Have joint protocols between Housing and Children’s Services setting out arrangements for service provision which ensure that a young person on the edge of homelessness is not passed between the two departments without support