Effects Of Respite Care for Children with Developmental Disabilities: Evaluation of an Intervention for At Risk Families


  • Perle Slavik Cowen R.N., Ph.D., and,

  • David A. Reed Ph.D.

Perle Slavik Cowen is Associate Professor and David A. Reed is Assistant Research Scientist, College of Nursing, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.Address correspondence to Perle Slavik Cowen, Associate Professor, College of Nursing, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242. E-mail: perle-cowen@uiowa.edu


Respite child care programs that provide temporary child care, support, and referral services to families of children with developmental disabilities are thought to be a critical component of formal social support interventions deemed necessary to promote healthy family functioning and prevent child maltreatment. This study describes sociodemographic characteristics, parenting stress levels, foster care placement, and founded child maltreatment rates in families of children with developmental disabilities who were using respite care services in a rural Midwestern state. Comparison of matched pre- and post-test Parenting Stress Index scores indicated significant decreases in Total Stress scores (t=3.27, df=86, p=0.0016), Parent Domain scores (t=3.55, df=86, p=0.0006), and Child Domain scores (t=2.2, df=86, p=0.02) following provision of respite care. Through logistic regression, it was determined that life stress, social support, and service level were significantly related to the occurrence of child maltreatment during enrollment ( p < 0.05). The investigator suggests that public health nurses can enhance their case management strategies when working with the parents of children with developmental disabilities by monitoring for caregiver burnout in addition to ensuring that the child is receiving care appropriate for his or her level of need.