Background: Research has shown that families of disabled children who have a key worker benefit from this service and recent policy initiatives emphasize the importance of such services. However, research is lacking on which characteristics of key worker schemes for disabled children are related to better outcomes for families. Methods: A postal questionnaire was completed by 189 parents with disabled children who were receiving a service in seven key worker schemes in England and Wales. Path analysis was used to investigate associations between characteristics of the services and outcomes for families (satisfaction with the service, impact of key worker on quality of life, parent unmet need, child unmet need). Results: The four path models showed that key workers carrying out more aspects of the key worker role, appropriate amounts of contact with key workers, regular training, supervision and peer support for key workers, and having a dedicated service manager and a clear job description for key workers were associated with better outcomes for families. Characteristics of services had only a small impact on child unmet need, suggesting that other aspects of services were affecting child unmet need. Conclusions: Implications for policy and practice are discussed, including the need for regular training, supervision and peer support for key workers and negotiated time and resources for them to carry out the role. These influence the extent to which key workers carry out all aspects of the key worker's role and their amount of contact with families, which in turn impact on outcomes
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