Recent policy responses to the risks entailed in ‘fast-track’ school–work transitions have targeted careleavers and young people identified as ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET). However, this approach has been criticised as diverting attention away from the fragile circumstances of others who may receive little parental or service support. We draw on a qualitative study with young people affected by parental substance use to further contribute to this discussion, highlighting the way in which policy constructions of both transitions and parental substance use combine to obscure the fragile circumstances of many of these young people. Notably, policy constructions of parental substance use have focused on young children rather than young people. Consequently, many young people whose family circumstances were not identified while they were young children face unsupported transitions without service or family support. We argue that policy construction should take a broader, longer-term perspective in both areas: moving forward towards transitions in the case of parental substance use, while also recognising the continuing effects of previous gaps in social support provision in the case of transitions policy. We further illustrate how policy construction in all areas may benefit from listening to young people themselves.