New research has shown that conflict between parents – whether together or separated – can put children’s mental health, and long-term life chances, at risk.

A review carried out by the Early Intervention Foundation and Professor Gordon Harold, of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, for the Department for Work and Pensions found that children’s wellbeing can be affected by the quality of the inter-parental relationship (how parents express and manage conflicts in their relationship).

Key findings demonstrate, that levels of conflict between parents can affect children’s long-term mental health and wellbeing while also adversely affecting wider aspects of family functioning, including parenting quality. 

The study recommends improving support aimed at promoting positive relationships between parents. It warns that this remains a neglected area for early intervention services with little attention paid to it by maternity, children's and family services.

This vital research project is underpinned by several key ESRC studies examining UK and international family relationship influences – specifically the relationship between the parents and the parent-child relationships – on children's emotional, behavioural and academic development. 

Professor Harold explained: “The ESRC has been particularly progressive across the period of research represented by several funded projects (from 1999-present), in that the various studies include biological (genetic) and psychosocial approaches to examining family relationship influences on children. Without this support and the associated studies/outputs, state-of-the-art UK-based findings could not have been included in the report – a significant factor in allowing UK related policy and practice recommendations relating to the role of the inter-parental relationship for children's psychological development and future life chances.”

Bridget Taylor, Senior Policy Manager for Longitudinal Studies and Biosocial research at the ESRC, said: “We fully welcome this report which is demonstrating how research can inform and impact on UK evidence-based policy and then intervention. The study is also a fantastic example of how longitudinal studies provide a unique evidence base for research.”