Respite Care: Benefits to wellbeing

Published: March 29, 2021

An evidence brief that considers how respite care contributes to wellbeing.


The purpose of this evidence brief is to consider how respite care contributes to wellbeing for children and for their caregivers, to inform policy and practices regarding the types and range of respite care that could be provided as part of the Oranga Tamariki aim to keep families together.

This evidence brief addresses five research questions:

  • How is respite care provided in Aotearoa New Zealand and other jurisdictions, for children outside of, or within, the state care and protection system?
  • What is the evidence for respite care (formal and informal) being beneficial to the wellbeing of children and young people?
  • What is the evidence for respite care (formal and informal) being beneficial to the wellbeing of the parent/caregiver?
  • What is the evidence for respite care (formal and informal) contributing to stability in care arrangements?
  • What are the attributes of respite models of care that result in wellbeing benefits for the child and/or the parent/caregiver?

To address these questions, a literature search was carried out. The jurisdictions of interest were Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom (U.K.), and United States of America (U.S.).

Key findings

Four models of care are used within the jurisdictions of interest

Four main models of care are discussed in the literature: in-home respite care, centre-based respite care, residential-based respite care, and residential respite care camps. These different models of care result in different benefits to children and to their caregivers.

There is evidence that respite care benefits children through improved socialisation, new skills and experiences, improved resilience, and enhanced self-esteem

Most of the evidence of respite care benefits for children and young people have emerged from literature relating to respite care camps.

There is evidence that respite care benefits caregivers by providing a break from their normal caregiving duties

The opportunity for a ‘break’ reduces stress; allows for family time; improves family functioning; improves caregiver mental health, including reducing distress and depression; and improves marital quality. The benefits to the caregiver are greatest when respite care is used regularly, normatively, and for appropriate durations.

Respite care has been shown to prevent placement breakdown, and reduce the likelihood of entry to full-time care

Care stability is considerably supported by respite care, with ‘edge of care’ programmes having good outcomes in terms of reducing the likelihood of the child or young person entering full-time care. A common experience amongst caregivers in all jurisdictions is that there is a lack of respite care provision compared to need.

Attributes of respite care that result in improved wellbeing include non-judgemental service provision, attention to the individual needs of the child, quality of care, and having a consistent respite carer

There is considerable agreement in the literature about the attributes of quality respite care, across children and young people, their caregivers, and service providers.