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18 February 2015, 05:45
Scotland must tackle the "pervasive problem'' of conflict in society in a bid to prevent thousands of youngsters become homeless as a result of family disputes, a leading campaigner has said.
Ewan Aitken, chief executive of Edinburgh's Cyrenians, made the plea ahead of a special conference organised by the charity's Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR).
The event brings together health experts, lawyers, politicians and organisations that help the homeless in a bid to tackle how relationship breakdowns within families can lead to young people becoming homeless.
A total of 4,750 people aged between 16 and 24 found themselves without home at some point in 2013-14 as a result of such disputes, according to the charity.
Mr Aitken said: "We cannot wait one minute longer to address the pervasive problem of conflict in Scottish society.
"Every year thousands of young people become homeless, their life chances left in tatters, because of family breakdown while many other parents and young people struggle behind closed doors.
"We know one in four young people think about running away from home each month because of arguments. A third of parents argue with their teenagers weekly.
"We cannot afford as a nation to hide from the impact of conflict, its affects can be devastating.''
He said he was "delighted'' the Faculty of Advocates has now pledged its support for the SCCR, with Mr Aitken adding he hoped "this is the springboard to others pledging to bring about real and lasting change for Scotland's young people and families''.
James Wolffe QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: "The vision of the SCCR is to change the culture of conflict in our society.
"In particular, the centre seeks to reduce family conflict and help young people avoid homelessness because of family breakdown. That is an aim which we can all share and which the faculty is glad to support.''
He added: "The Faculty of Advocates has been in the business of dispute resolution for over 400 years.
"Advocates are trained in skills which may be effectively deployed not only in the courtroom but also in other methods of dispute resolution.
"Mediation and other methods of alternative dispute resolution have increasing importance in our justice system - and, more broadly, in seeking to address conflict in our society - and I look forward to the faculty playing its part in these developments.''
Both Mr Wolffe and Mr Aitken are speaking at the conference, along with Scotland's former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns, who is now a professor of global public health at Strathclyde University and housing minister Margaret Burgess.
Mrs Burgess said: "Preventing homelessness among young people is a priority for the Scottish Government and we are working closely with local authorities and their partners to improve outcomes for young people facing homelessness.
"While homelessness among young people has been falling in recent years, when it does occur relationship breakdown with others has been cited as the main reason.
"That's why we're delighted to fund a national initiative like SCCR which offers early help and support to young people, their friends and families, who are in dispute and can help identify best practice amongst mediation services working to prevent homelessness across Scotland.''