The relationship between respite care and child abuse potential in parents of children with developmental disabilities: A preliminary report.

Author(s): Aniol, K., Mullins, L.L., Page, M.C., Boyd, M.L., & Chaney, J.M. (2004)

Published In: Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 16(3): 273-285

Study Aim/Purpose:
The study’s aim was to examine the longitudinal impact of short-term inpatient respite care services on child abuse potential and family relationships among parents of children with developmental disabilities.

Summary of Methods:
Researchers employed a quasi-experimental pre-post design comparing outcomes among a sample of 14 parents or primary caregivers of children and adolescents with developmental disabilities receiving inpatient respite care services for 4-11 days to the outcomes among a sample of 18 parents or primary caregivers whose children received short-term hospitalization (defined as 30-90 days of inpatient treatment and comprehensive medical evaluation and treatment services). Parents completed questionnaires at admission, at discharge and at 2-month follow-up on the following outcomes: 1) child abuse potential (using the Child Abuse Potential Inventory, a measure created to assess factors in parental functioning thought to contribute to physical child abuse); 2) quality of family relations (using the Family Relations Inventory); and 3) parenting stress (using the Parenting Stress Inventory-Short Form).

Summary of Key Results:
Analysis found that neither respite care nor short-term hospitalization plus therapy resulted in significant effects on child abuse potential or family relationships, although “there were trends in the direction of reduced child abuse potential and improved family relations. Additionally, at each of the three time points, “strong interrelationships” were found between the three primary outcomes measured―child abuse potential, quality of family relations, and parenting stress.

Study Limitations (as cited by authors):
The small sample size, the fact that the sample represents parents who were specifically seeking out certain types of services, and use of self-report measure of abuse potential were cited as study limitations. The authors also stated that their “design did not allow for the assessment of other mediating or moderating variables that could also potentially contribute to child abuse potential (e.g. social support, marital stress).”

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions:
“These preliminary results suggest that respite care may be insufficient to directly impact child abuse potential; however, interventions that target variables related to abuse (e.g. quality of family relations, parenting stress) might be beneficial. “ The authors suggest the need for future research with larger sample sizes and the evaluation of clinical interventions that target both family functioning and parenting stress over time (with and without respite care services). Additionally, they recommend that “future research on the impact of respite services should assess multiple types of abuse (not just physical abuse) using multiple informant sources (e.g. child welfare records).”