Purpose: Parents of children with special healthcare needs may become overwhelmed with the ongoing caregiving needs of their children. Caring for a child with special healthcare needs is often challenging, requiring specialized training in many cases. As a result, parents can struggle to find qualified caregivers capable of providing them a break from the 24/7 care of their child. Respite care programs are designed to provide caregivers with a much‐needed temporary break. The purpose of this study was to examine parental perceptions of utilizing a respite care program.
Design and Methods: Twenty‐two parents who had a child with special healthcare needs who attended a Midwestern respite care program completed a Participant Characteristic Form addressing their experiences caring for their child with special healthcare needs and using respite care services. Parents participated in a focus group (N = 4) to explore their perceptions and experiences of respite care participation. Multistage thematic analysis and descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data.
Results: Themes emerging from the data included: Constant care demands; It is just so stressful; Respite is a gift, we get a break; Respite program “fit”; and Respite is their special time too. Parents emphasized the benefits of respite care for their marital relationship, as well as the benefits to the children with special healthcare needs and their siblings. Parents also described the importance of tailoring respite care to the unique needs of their family.
Practice Implications: Nurses and other healthcare professionals play a critical role in addressing the unmet respite care needs of parents of children with special healthcare needs by identifying unmet needs and making appropriate referrals to services that will meet the unique needs of the family. Healthcare professionals can also volunteer with existing programs to help expand access to respite care services and increase the availability of adequately trained respite care providers whom parents can trust to provide for the complex healthcare needs of their children.