Employment, child care, and mental health of mothers caring for children assisted by technology

Ute Thyen*, Karen Kuhlthau, James M. Perrin

*Corresponding author for this work
134 Citations (Scopus)


Objective. This study examines 1) the way that children with chronic conditions are cared for at home and assisted by technology affects maternal employment and child care; 2) the social and clinical factors associated with the decision of a mother to quit employment to care for a child at home; and 3) the way in which care at home and the decision of a mother to quit a job affects maternal mental health. Design. The 6-month postdischarge status of 70 mothers of children assisted by technology (study group) was compared with the 6-month postdischarge status of 58 mothers of children (matched for age and gender) hospitalized for acute illnesses (comparison group). Between January and December 1993, we gathered information on sociodemographic status, employment status and changes in employment, severity of the child's condition, child care and nursing services at home, family support, and maternal mental health. Results. One third of mothers in the study group reported that they quit employment to take care of a child at home with only 37.1% remaining employed outside the home, compared with 69.0% of comparison group mothers. Single caretakers were 15 times more likely to quit employment compared with mothers in two-parent families. Availability of child care had an independent effect on a mother's decision to quit a job, whereas the severity of the child's condition did not. Child care hours were significantly lower in study group families and were provided mostly by relatives compared with daycare facilities and regular babysitters in comparison families. Family support was highest among employed mothers in both the study and the comparison groups and lowest in study group mothers who were neither employed currently nor before the child's illness or who had quit employment to care for the child. Family income was significantly lower in families with a child assisted by technology. Families in the study group had 20-fold higher uncompensated health care costs than did the comparison group. Mothers caring for a child assisted by technology reported less good mental health than did comparison group mothers, and employment seems to mediate this relationship. Conclusions. Caring for a child assisted by technology seems to create barriers to maternal employment diminishing family resources at a time when financial needs actually may increase. Lack of family support and child care services increase the likelihood that mothers of children assisted by technology will stay out of the labor force. Remaining employed buffers the negative effects of care at home on maternal mental health. Health policies for children with chronic health problems should address issues of financial burdens and the labor force participation of their caretakers.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number6 I
Pages (from-to)1235-1242
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 06.1999

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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