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Respite: better for the rest

If you can take a break from caring for your disabled child it can strengthen your couple relationship. Here we take a look at some of the research and explain how to go about getting some ‘you-time’. 

Short breaks have been the key to our survival. They have allowed us to re-charge our batteries and have time for our other children and each other. This is necessary for any relationship but crucial for those with a disabled child in their family when having to cope with so many other pressures.

When we asked parents what, if anything, had Imost helped their relationship since having their disabled child, the single most important factor was seen as time away from their disabled child - time to be with the partner and/or other child or children. [1] 

Taking a break from caring for your child is not an admission of failure or a way of saying you don't care. A break is an opportunity to recharge batteries, spend time with others or pursue a particular interest. Short breaks (sometimes called ‘respite care’) may also allow your child to have a change of scene, try different experiences, have fun and make friends.

Short breaks can include:

  • Care at home – includes sitting or care attendant schemes, which provide someone to sit with or 'mind' your child.
  • Day care away from home – includes nurseries, playgroups, out of school and weekend clubs and, during school holidays, access to play schemes.
  • Overnight short breaks – includes an overnight sitting or nursing service if your child needs it.
  • Residential breaks – includes residential homes, special units in hospitals and hospices.
  • Family link schemes – where your child stays with another family on a regular basis or occasionally.
What are the long term benefits for you, your relationship and your family life?

A study from Oklahoma University found that psychological distress and anxiety of parents showed a notable decrease - even six months after having a break, parents’general well-being improved. [2]

“When our child is looked after we spend quality time together” 

Other research, with parents of children who have autistic spectrum disorder, found a direct link between the number of short break hours taken and relationship quality. In other words, for every hour of a break taken, the better the relationship. [3] 

The researchers gave a very simple explanation for this:

“Respite care helps reduce stress, which in turn affects marital quality.” It might just be that straight forward.

How do I get a short break? 

You should be able to find out information about short breaks and how to access them on your local authority website. Some short break schemes may be described as 'universal', which means they are available to all children and you don't need an assessment to access them.

Families in Scotland can search for services at Shared Care Scotland, the national third sector organisation providing information on short breaks.  

What if I’m refused a short break?

It is quite common to hear statements like, ‘Our local authority no longer provides short breaks’ or, ‘We don’t do carers assessments in this local authority.’ If you find yourself in this situation, see Contact's guide to Challenging cuts to short breaks services (England), which has template letters you can use to write to your local authority:

 “Taking time to be with yourself, your partner and your ‘normal’ child can re-establish relationships that are buried under doctors’ appointments, being told what they can’t do, and hopes and disappointments of life”
“Find time for yourselves. Grab any help you can get!” 

We’d love to hear about your experiences with respite and short breaks, and how you’ve managed them in the past. Have you found that your relationship has improved through using it? Has it helped you to lower your stress levels? Or did you find it hard to let someone else take care of your child? Do let us know and get in touch with us via Contact's Facebook page


[1] Contact a Family, No Time for Us – relationships between parents who have a disabled child December 2003

[2] The Influence of Respite Care on Psychological Distress in Parents of Children With Developmental Disabilities: A Longitudinal Study Larry L. Mullins, Karen Aniol, Misty L. Boyd, Melanie C. Page, and John M. Chaney, Oklahoma State University.

[3] Harper, Amber; Dyches, Tina Taylor; Harper, James; Roper, Susanne Olsen; and South, Mikle, "Respite Care, Marital Quality, and Stress in Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders" (2013). All Faculty Publications. Paper 1497.

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