The break up of a relationship is a traumatic time for the couple involved but the strains and stresses can also have an impact on the health and well-being of any children involved.

Siobhan Ryan speaks to a team of workers who help young people get through this difficult period.

When a child starts to misbehave at school or becomes depressed and withdrawn, one of the first instincts is to look at what is happening at home.

If the situation is down to relationship problems between parents, the child can sometimes feel they have nowhere to turn to for help and advice.

This, combined with the constant strain of arguing adults, can lead to outbursts of anger or depression.

On rare occasions the child will go into a downward spiral and turn to drink or drugs to try and block out their feelings.

The aim of the support group Relateen is to catch children well before they each this point.

Relateen, which has branches along the Sussex coast, including Brighton, Worthing and Eastbourne, is a branch of the national charity Relate.

Set up in 1997 it offers a free and confidential counselling service for young people aged 11 to 18 whose parents have relationship problems.

The scheme has helped more than 1,500 people in three years at Relate centres and at schools across the county and the demand for services is increasing.

Brighton centre manager Trish Owen said: "Many young people desperately need someone to talk to who will understand the difficulties they are experiencing in their life at home.

"Some contact us themselves while others are brought by a parent who may be worried about the effect their own relationship problems are having on their child.

"There is well-researched evidence that family conflict is one of the major causes of stress, depression and poor performance at school among young people.

"We offer youngsters a chance to be heard and understood by highly trained counsellors who can help them to come through what is for many a distressing and lonely time in their lives.

"All kinds of problems can result in children burying their feelings. As well as increased drug use, they can get involved with the wrong crowd or turn to a life of petty crime."

Relateen counsellor Sue Armstrong said: "There are so many reasons why children come to us but the main thing is that they feel they can't say how difficult they are finding things and need to turn to someone for help.

"They need someone to listen to them and to take them seriously and to show them how to start taking the necessary steps to cope.

"When they are feeling very down it doesn't help when they are told to cheer up or it might never happen. Listening is the key."

"We also encourage them to look around for another person to help such as another close relative or a family friend."

Referrals mainly come from parents or the children themselves but they are also made by social services, GPs and education departments.

Mrs Armstrong says there is no feedback given to parents or teachers about counselling sessions.

She said:"The only time we would ever consider breaking the bond of confidentiality would be if we had a real fear the child was about to try and kill themselves or do themselves serious damage.

"It is not a step that is taken lightly and is an extremely rare occurrence. We would prefer to get the childs permission to talk to their GP or their parents or another relative first.

"We have only ever been forced to go against wishes and break a childs confidentiality three times since we started and that was when we had absolutely no choice."

There is no hard and fast rule about how long children can come for counselling sessions. Some only come once or twice and feel that is enough, while others keep coming back for months.

Mrs Armstrong said:"People can come for as little or as often as they want to, so long as they feel it is helping them. The door is always open if they need our help."

For more details about Relateen in Brighton, call 01273 608518.