Half of the city's young people believe they have significant family relationship problems, more than double the proportion found among Croatian youngsters who endured four years in a refugee camp during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s, a survey has found. Steven Ngai Sek-yum, a social work professor at Chinese University who conducted the survey for the Hong Kong Playground Association, said the finding was both surprising and worrying. He also said he believed the bad sentiment at home would get worse if the global financial crisis continued. Among the 752 people aged between 10 and 18 who were polled in August and last month, 50.1 per cent considered they have obvious or serious relationship problems with their families, compared with 20.5 per cent of 112 Croatian children who said they did in a similar survey in 1997. Both studies adopted the same set of parameters by acclaimed social-work academic Walter Hudson, who sought to find out whether the respondents thought their families provided them with enough love and support and whether they enjoyed spending time with their families. Half of the local respondents said no. Professor Ngai said the recent economic meltdown must be a major factor. The economic turmoil 'pretty much began when we conducted this survey. Children may feel upset and helpless as their families' financial situation turned bad, while parents may neglect their children as they have their own problems to attend to', he said. The economic factor may also explain why the survey found no difference in confidence level between middle-class children and those who relied on government subsidies. 'The line that distinguishes the rich from the poor became obscure, as almost everyone lost a large part of their savings,' Professor Ngai said. Tense family relationships are blamed for lower ratings in children's self-esteem and their overall confidence level compared with similar studies conducted a few years ago. Professor Ngai urged parents to devote more time and attention to their children as more families may face relationship problems amid the economic downturn. Tommy Choi, a first-year student at Baptist University who can remember the hard times during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, said he might never have entered tertiary education if his family had not been so supportive. During Sars, 'my parents lost their jobs and we had to turn to subsidies. I was very upset. Luckily my family was there for me. They helped me through the hard times', he said.