Children living in families facing adversity can struggle to access support

Our new report helps professionals understand and support young people whose parents are affected by domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health problems

Young girl hugging knees on sofaIn 2016/17 we responded to 15,032 contacts to our helpline about children living in families where parents are experiencing domestic abuse, substance misuse and/or mental health problems.

We also delivered 12,099 Childline counselling sessions where children raised concerns about living in a family facing adversity.

Although many parents experiencing challenges are able to provide a safe and loving environment for their children, growing up in a family facing difficult circumstances can affect a child’s wellbeing and make it difficult for them to seek support.

Our new report can help people who work with children to understand how it feels when their family is facing adversity, and how to provide appropriate support.

Download the report (PDF)

Key findings from the report

Children and young people talked about the impact living in a family facing adversity has on their wellbeing. Effects can include:

  • mental health problems
  • poor performance at school
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • struggling to build and maintain relationships with friends or partners.

Some young people living in families facing adversity told us about taking on caring responsibilities for themselves, their siblings and/or their parents. However many do not see themselves as young carers and are unaware of the support available to them.

Young people living in families facing adversity can experience difficulties getting the support they need. This might be because they don’t feel able to talk to their parents about how things are affecting them, or because they’re concerned about what will happen if they tell someone.

They may worry:

  • about themselves or their siblings being taken into care
  • their parents will be unable to cope if the family is separated
  • their parents’ problems will get worse if the family is no longer together.

Children and young people told us what helps them cope with living in a family facing adversity. This includes:

  • finding an outlet for their emotions, for example writing a diary or drawing
  • taking time to do something they enjoy, such as listening to music, playing games or participating in a sport
  • creating a haven where they feel safe and can be themselves – perhaps their bedroom or a trusted friend’s house
  • talking to other young people in a similar situation through Childline’s peer support message boards 
  • remembering it’s not their fault.

We’ve also heard about the support young people would like from professionals, including:

  • help with the practical considerations of caring for family members - for example making a schedule for the daily routine and planning activities in advance
  • being able to  talk to the professionals who are involved in caring for their parents about their concerns
  • being given the information they need about their parents’ medical conditions in a format that’s appropriate for their age.

"Since my parents got divorced I have been looking after my dad and brother. My dad is unable to work and sometimes doesn’t get out of bed all day. I get really stressed about my school work as I’m only able to do it late at night, but then I get really tired as I haven’t had enough sleep. Sometimes I fall asleep in class. It’s really embarrassing but I can’t help it."
Girl, 13

"My parents are caught up in drink and drugs. It’s pretty bad at home and they’ve been violent towards me for years. I really want to leave. I’m scared of telling anyone about what’s happening because I don’t want them to go to prison and I don’t want to go into care, I just want to get out of this situation."
Boy, 16

Young boy sitting next to window

There are several resources on the Childline website, which young people living in families where there is domestic abuse, parental substance misuse or parental mental health problems might find helpful. These include:

A full list of resources is available in the report.

Read the full report

For more information about what children experience and how professionals can help them, download the report.


Please cite as: NSPCC (2018) Children living in families facing adversity: NSPCC helplines report. London: NSPCC.

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Related resources

Domestic abuse

Witnessing domestic abuse is child abuse, and teenagers can suffer domestic abuse in their relationships. 
Read more about domestic abuse

Parental substance misuse

Supporting children living with parents who misuse alcohol and drugs.
Read more about parental substance misuse

Parental mental health

Helping children living with parents with mental health problems.
Read more about parental mental health


Photographs courtesy of Tom Hull. Children pictured are models.