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Parents of children with cerebral palsy more likely to suffer mental health difficulties

At the conclusion of a medical negligence case involving a child with cerebral palsy, most judges approving settlement will speak directly to the parents in court and commend their incredible resilience in supporting a child living with severe disability. Generally, one parent has given up work to care for a deeply loved child and to manage the additional stress of also caring for siblings and other family members.

Such dedication is immense and demands so much strength and determination that anyone dealing with these families cannot help but be in awe.

Now, a new research study in the US has drawn a link between parents of children with the most complex medical conditions (CMC) such as cerebral palsy being five times more likely to report poor mental health than parents of children without these conditions.

The study, completed by researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center and Golisano Children's Hospital, was published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The findings in truth are not surprising when you consider that most children with cerebral palsy need 24-hour help with basic daily activities such as eating, moving and communicating, not to mention interrupted sleep and curtailed social activities such as holidays and day trips.

Perhaps more importantly, the study also highlights that more than a third of parents bringing up children with CMC report not knowing where to turn for help when they face problems. A crucial recommendation from the study is that health care providers actively seek out parents of children with CMC to offer support and resources to prioritise their mental health, to take of the parents as well as the child.

By the time a medical negligence solicitor gets involved in a cerebral palsy case, the parents have usually brought up the child with very little help for several years, including fighting for specialist treatment and aids and for the right education to ensure their child lives their best possible life.

They are often exhausted and understandably concerned about the future of their child who will never be able to live independently. The parent's careers are adversely affected because of their care responsibilities and often they must try to find the money to fund private therapies and equipment to make up for poor State provision. This takes a massive toll.

A medical negligence claim where it is shown that negligent treatment during a mother's labour resulted in catastrophic injury causing cerebral palsy also takes time to assess exactly what care and support a child will need growing up. The satisfaction in concluding a cerebral palsy claim is immense, particularly knowing that some of the parents' stress will be alleviated by additional carers, adapted accommodation, equipment such as wheelchairs, communication tools and life-long therapies for their child.

The reality, however, remains and families continue to dedicate their lives to supporting their child in every way possible. That at the very least deserves every ounce of external support available and more.

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