New research this week has revealed that a lack of time for other activities beyond caregiving is associated with high rates of depression in parents of children with cerebral palsy. The study, Time burden of caring and depression among parents of individuals with cerebral palsy, published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation, compared caregiving time and time pressure in 152 parents who looked after individuals with cerebral palsy and evaluated how this correlated with the frequency of depression.
In general terms the study found that the more parents miss out on social and leisure time for themselves, the more likely they are to suffer from depression.
Depression is an under-recognised problem in families of children with severe disabilities who often require round the clock care. A certain amount of support is accessible from the benefits system, but all too often this only scratches the surface. Charities do try and bridge the gap between what is needed and what is available from government sources, but, depending on the level of disability a child experiences, this is unlikely to be enough, and the mere act of trying to access this support adds further pressure to an already stretched family. Employing carers privately to help with care needs can ease the strain on parents, but this care can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds per year, money which, unless a legal claim has successfully been pursued for the child, is unlikely to be available.
It is therefore extremely important that parents of children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities make sure they develop a support system. Relatives, friends and neighbours can all play a part in forming this cushion around the family to help them cope with the very significant demands on their time and emotions.
Helen Hammond, senior associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team in Basingstoke, comments: “I have worked with a large number of parents of children with additional needs and am always amazed by the dedication they show to getting the best for their children. Inevitably the time commitment involved in looking after a child with considerable needs can take its toll on parents, leaving them with little time for themselves. It is important that this is recognised by the community at large so that these parents can access whatever support may be available to them at a time when their focus is, rightly, on their child. Equally, when bringing a claim on behalf of parents of a child with cerebral palsy, solicitors should ensure that the child in question receives all the support he or she is legally entitled to, allowing the mother and father to ‘parent’ again, rather than be caregivers, if that is their wish.”