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Short breaks help parents stay together

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A vital new research study has shown that short breaks for respite provided by children’s hospices have a positive impact on the relationships between parents of children with life-limiting conditions.

It has also found that where parents do not have access to short breaks, they may be at greater risk of divorcing or separating.

The research by Bournemouth University in partnership with Julia’s House found that 64% of divorced or separated parents cited having a child with complex needs as a reason for the breakdown of their relationship. Of these, three quarters had no access to short breaks at that time, even though couples who received more short breaks from children’s hospices were more satisfied with their relationships.

We are supporting the call for an urgent review of short break hospice care by the government as a preventative measure to reduce parental break-up. Yesterday we hosted a drop-in session for MPs & peers at Westminster to launch this vital new research. Mum, Lisa and her daughter Kitty, who are supported by Julia’s House, were at the reception to explain how important short breaks were to their family: “Respite played a vital part in keeping our family from falling apart at the seams.”

We know from our own research that 1 in 7 (14%) local authorities are failing to commission short breaks services for disabled children, including those with life-limiting conditions, despite having a legal duty to do so. Investment in short breaks has long-term benefits to families & society, preventing later costs of family breakdown.

Barbara Gelb OBE, Chief Executive of UK children’s palliative care charity Together for Short Lives, said: “This new research brings into stark focus the impact that caring for a child with a life-limiting condition has on relationships and wellbeing. It shows just how vital the short breaks offered by children’s hospice services across the UK are in helping to relieve stress on parents and families caring for seriously ill children.”


  • 74% of parents rated short breaks as having a positive impact on their relationship, while the other 26% reported that they mostly used short breaks to spend time with other children in the family
  • 89% of parents get no support from their families, often due to the complex needs of their child
  • 43% of couples who had not split up led separate lives which impacted on their relationship, due to the demands of caring for a life-limited child
  • 75% of separated parents were not receiving short breaks when their relationship broke down
  • 64% of separated parents cited caring for their life-limited child as a factor in their relationship breakdown.

Interviews were conducted over a four-year period with parents at 17 children’s hospices.

There are almost 50,000 children and young people with life-threatening or life-limiting conditions in the UK with 54 children’s hospices offering respite and palliative care to them and their families.

All children’s hospices are charities, receiving very little state funding to provide their lifeline services to thousands of families across the UK.

Watch mum, Lisa talking at Westminster about how short breaks helped her family stay together:

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