The effect of parent support networks for parents who have a child with a disability

Year of Study: 1994-1995

This qualitative study was designed to examine the perceived effect of parent support groups in providing parents with support, reducing their stress, and improving their ability to deal with disability issues. Its purpose was also to study the factors that make such a group successful. Leadership, adequate funding and community connections were found to be the three most important factors leading to successful support groups for parents of children with disabilities. Results of the study indicate that the effects of belonging to a parent-led parent support group are substantial.

Specifically, parents gain increased skills, an increased sense of power and a sense of belonging. Participants are able to connect with each other and provide support and skills to deal with the day-to-day issues of raising a child with special needs. Factors that limit group success are a lack of sustained leadership, an unclear purpose, and too much or too little service provider or agency involvement.

Nine parent-run support groups in Ontario participated. From these groups, 20 parents were interviewed about the benefits and limitations of participation in a support group. Information was also collected by observing support group meetings and reviewing group documents. Interview, observation and document data were analysed to identify important ideas and themes.

Research Team

  • L Terry
  • S King


Findings demonstrate that belonging to a parent-run support group helps parents to gain support, as well as an increased sense of both power and belonging.

Project Updates

  • Keeping Current: "Support groups for parents of children with disabilities"
  • Report: "Many Roads to One Place: The effects of parent support groups for parents of children with special needs".
  • Law, M., King, S., Stewart, D., King, G., Terry, L., & Chiu, J. (In press). Effects of parent support groups for parents of children with disabilities. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics.
  • King, G., Stewart, D., King, S., & Law, M. (2000). Organizational factors and issues affecting the longevity of self-help groups for parents of children with special needs. Qualitative Health Research, 10(2), 225-241.


Brighter Futures Program of the National Health Research and Development Program - $58,058 (1994-1996)