This critical review of British literature explores the phenomenon of acute childhood illness at home from the parents' perspective. The Literature was searched using four CD-ROM databases: CINAHL, MEDLINE, ASSIA and PSYCHLIT, augmented by hand searching of current journal issues. Sandelowski's (1995) stages of qualitative data analysis were used to develop a rigorous approach to conducting qualitative overviews. The majority of childhood illness is of short duration and takes place in the child's own home. Yet the research which addresses this area is limited. Mothers constantly monitor their child's health, identifying illness as a change in behaviour of the child from their perception of normal. Their usual response to illness is nonprofessional care, including general nursing care and 'over the counter' medicines. When mothers do seek help this is usually from the family doctor. Mothers are often dissatisfied with the help and advice they receive. This is partially explained by the mismatches which occur concerning the perceptions of mothers and of health care professionals regarding appropriate use of services and the needs of these mothers and their children. The literature reviewed indicates a need to address the service users perceptions of the services provided. Areas where further research is required are identified.