Families back in favour
The latest blow to the view that families are psychologically damaging comes in a surveyby the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
It found evidence that young people who spend time with their families are more likely to stay at school after the age of 16, less likely to be unemployed and less prone to take up smoking or drugs than those who spend little time at home.
The long-term survey of 1,000 young people in the Glasgow area also found that youngsters from families with both natural parents are more likely to be in higher education by the age of 18 and less likely to be unemployed than those from single-parent families or with one step-parent.
Girls were more likely to be pregnant by the age of 18 if their parents had separated or if one of them had died.
But researchers from the Medical Research Council's medical sociology unit in Glasgow, who carried out the survey, said it is time spent at home rather than the kind of family which is crucial.
The findings come as the Government pushes the controversial Family Law Bill through Parliament, which some claim will make divorce easier. They also follow the release of figures showing that 23 per cent of families are now headed by a single parent.
The young people in the survey were interviewed in 1987 at the age of 15, again in 1990, and finally again last year at the age of 23.
Of those who spent most time with their family at the age of 15, 26 per cent were likely to try drugs compared with a 47 per cent figure for those who spent little time at home.
More than two-thirds of those spending time with their families were likely to stay on at school compared with less than half of those who didn't.
"Young people who spent most time in ordinary family activities like watching TV, visiting relatives or playing games are less likely to go on to smoke or try drugs, and more likely to stay on at school and do well and go on to higher education," said researcher Helen Sweeting.
Brian Harrison, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said: "The most important thing is that children grow up in an environment in which they feel cared for and confident and in which their needs are met. The family structure does not matter as much as the quality of relationships."
Peter Wilson, director of Young Minds, the campaign for children's mental health, said: "Spending time with the family does make a difference because it means the child is not alone and they are talking and learning from the older generation.
"It is important that children should not be left to their own devices too much.
"The availability of parents is important to youngsters, but the type of family structure does not matter in itself as much as the quality of care and general sense of security and affection."