Page last updated at 17:43 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Balls to hold agony aunt 'summit'

School's Secretary Ed Balls with the agony aunts in October
Ed Balls last met with the agony aunts in October

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has got together with Britain's agony aunts for a "relationship summit".

An "anguish of agony aunts" - the collective noun chosen by themselves - will advise ministers on how to support children facing family breakdown.

About 250,000 couples separate each year, affecting about 350,000 children.

Mr Balls said family breakdown can "sometimes scar children for life - that is why there is a role for government to intervene".

Official figures suggest three million of the UK's 12m children will see their parents separate during the course of their childhood.

Counselling call

The relationship summit follows a meeting between Mr Balls and 17 agony aunts in October as part of the Kids in the Middle campaign.

Run by four charities - Relate, One Parent Families/Gingerbread, Families Need Fathers and the Fatherhood Institute - the campaign is calling for more counselling in schools to help children through family breakdown.

The Sun's Deidre Sanders, who started her Dear Deidre problem page in 1980, is one of the agony aunts involved.

Mr Balls has also launched a new Kids in the Middle booklet, written by agony aunts, and announce a three-point plan aimed at supporting new parents as well as children caught up in relationship problems.

He said: "We know government doesn't bring up children - parents do.

"And we know in the vast majority of cases where parents are splitting up they will always try to make sure they put the needs of children first, but sometimes that just isn't possible.

"The risk is that the impact of their parents' break-up can sometimes scar children for life - that is why there is a role for government to intervene."

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