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Developmental vulnerabilities in children of chronically ill parents: a population-based linked data study
  1. Megan F Bell1,2,
  2. Donna M Bayliss2,
  3. Rebecca Glauert1,
  4. Jeneva L Ohan2
  1. 1 Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  2. 2 School of Psychological Science, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Megan F Bell, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth WA 6009, Australia; megan.bell{at}


Background Currently, there is mixed evidence regarding the effects on children when a parent is chronically ill. Research has also primarily been conducted with adolescent samples. This study investigated developmental vulnerabilities in young children of parents with chronic illness.

Methods This study used linked administrative data. The study population included children born in Western Australia during 2003–2004 (n=19 071; mean age 5.5 years). The outcome measure was a score in the bottom 25% on any of the five developmental domains (physical, social, emotional, communicative and cognitive) of the Australian Early Development Census (2009 collection). Parental chronic illnesses were identified from hospital and cancer registry records, during the period from 1 year prior to the child’s birth and until the end of 2009.

Results Higher odds of developmental vulnerabilities in physical, social, emotional and communication domains were observed for daughters of chronically ill mothers. Sons of chronically ill mothers had increased odds of language and cognitive difficulties. Risk level increased with each additional year of exposure to maternal chronic illness. Results also indicated increased odds of developmental vulnerabilities for children of mothers experiencing multiple compared with single chronic conditions; however, results were not statistically significant (all p>0.05). No association between fathers’ chronic illness and children’s developmental outcomes was found.

Conclusions Maternal chronic illness is associated with an increased risk of poor developmental outcomes for children, particularly daughters. Healthcare services have an important role to play in linking families into appropriate family-centred services to best support the needs of chronically ill mothers.

  • record linkage
  • maternal health
  • lifecourse/childhood circumstances
  • chronic di

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  • Contributors All authors devised the idea and designed the study. MFB conducted data cleaning and analysis and prepared the manuscript with input from DB, RG and JLO. All authors approve the final manuscript as submitted.

  • Funding All phases of this study were supported by the Australian Research Council (grant number LP100200507).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval for this study was granted by the Department of Health Human Research Ethics Committee, the University of Western Australian Human Research Ethics Committee and the Western Australian Aboriginal Health Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.