MORE needs to be done to help the thousands of children across Dorset living in families trapped in the “toxic cycle of debt”.

That is the message from national charities the Children Society and StepChange Debt, which say more than 18,000 children across the county come from households facing financial struggles.

Research, carried out by the charities, show more than 5,700 children in Bournemouth, 2,500 children in Poole and more than 1,620 children in Christchurch come from debt-troubled homes.

The numbers suggest families across the county owe a combined total of more than £51million.

As part of the Debt Trap Campaign, the charities are calling on the government to introduce a “breathing space” scheme to give parents an extended period of protection from additional charges, further interest and enforcement action.

The campaign also calls for tighter restrictions on advertising loans to children and more support and advice for families in financial difficulty.

Mike O'Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “As parents become trapped in a toxic cycle of debt, children can become the unwitting victims. This is not acceptable in a society that aspires to justice and fairness.

“We need concerted action to ensure financially vulnerable families are given 'breathing space' to help them get back on their feet and protect both children and families from the most harmful effects of debt.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: “This research exposes the shocking reality of parents lying awake at night worrying and unhappy children going without. Many families are feeling the squeeze and parents struggling on low wages are battling just to pay the bills.”

Eren Bailey, centre manager of Christians Against Poverty in Bournemouth, said the organisation had been inundated with people asking for help since it launched last year.

“We only have capacity to see three people a day and at the moment we have a waiting list through to November,” she said.

“We’ve had more than 120 people come to us asking for help but we have had to turn some of them away because we can only see people in our area.”

Ms Bailey said people can end up in debt for a variety of reasons including illness, mental health problems, job losses and relationship breakdowns.

Throwing her support behind the Debt Trap Campaign, she added: “If people have had to go into their overdrafts or not been able to pay a bank loan, the bank charges them a lot of money.

“It then makes it impossible to get to a situation where they can pay it back.”

To speak to an advisor from the charity, which also has branches in the New Forest and Poole, call 0800 328 0006.