The impacts of short break provision on families with a disabled child: an international literature review

Author(s): Robertson, J., Hatton, C., Wells, E., Collins, M., Langer, S.

Published In: Health and Social Care in the Community, 19(4): 337-371

Study Aim/Purpose: This international literature review aims to assess the existing research evidence concerning the impacts of short breaks on families with disabled children. 

Summary of Methods: The authors conducted electronic literature searches using ASSIA, PsycInfo, CINAHL, and Web of Science, and also sent requests for information to select email lists. 

Summary of Key Results: Sixty articles and reports were identified for inclusion in the review. The majority of these studies were cross-sectional studies, with only 8 studies using quasi-experimental pre/post or longitudinal designs. Specific outcomes reported in the literature included the impacts of respite on carer well-being; impacts on child with disability receiving respite; impacts on siblings; and impacts on family functioning and on seeking permanent out-of-home placement. Despite finding methodological limitations of the research reviewed, the authors find that the “research consistently reports positive impacts of short breaks on the well-being of most (but not all) disabled children and their families.” 

Limitations of Studies (as cited by authors): For studies reviewed, some of the methodological problems cited were: 1) limited use of quantitative outcome measures; 2) confounding factors in the comparison of short break users and non-users; 2) lack of a control group who did not use short breaks; 3) small sample sizes; and 4) the provision of short breaks in conjunction with other interventions. 

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions: The authors identify the need for additional research with the following goals: 1) evaluation of the impact of short breaks on fathers ; 2) evaluation of the impacts of short breaks on the siblings of disabled children; 3) consideration of how short breaks can be combined with other interventions to maximize their impact; 4) assessment of the longer term impacts of short breaks for disabled children and their families; and 5) provision of evidence regarding the type of short breaks that are most effective for children and families with particular characteristics and for children at different ages or levels of maturation toward adulthood.