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Query: Does having a child with special needs incur health problems in the main carer?

Response posted: July 2011

There is a large body of literature on the health of parents & carers of disabled children.

A number of factors are thought to be associated with the health and wellbeing of primary carers of disabled children. These factors include:

  • characteristics of the caregiver (eg, age, marital status, coping ability)
  • characteristics of the child (eg, the degree of disability)
  • shared history between the caregiver and the person being cared for
  • social factors (eg, access to social networks and social support),
  • economic factors (eg socioeconomic status, ability to access formal care, employment),
  • cultural context.

In a Canadian study, the psychological and physical health of carers of children with cerebral palsy, primarily mothers, was strongly influenced by child behaviour and care-giving demands. Family functioning was also found to play an important mediating role.

Researchers in the USA carried out a smaller study with parents to explore ways in which caring for a disabled child affected their health. Several negative effects were identified including stress and other impacts on physical and emotion health. You can find out more information about this study at:

Researchers in York carried out research with parents of disabled children to examine areas of life that parents rated as important; and the balance between caring and parenting, and physical and emotional well-being were included in the responses. Also included were:

  • Personal identity
  • Feeling skilled and informed
  • Maintaining family life
  • Positive adjustment of siblings
  • Practical and financial resources
  • Experiences as a service user