We sought to assess the association between parental depressive symptoms and school attendance and emergency department (ED) use among children with and without chronic health conditions. Secondary analysis of the 1997-2004 National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative survey. Parental depressive symptoms were measured by three questions assessing sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness in the past month. Children with and without asthma or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were identified, and their school attendance and ED visits were reported by adult household respondents. Children with information on parental depressive symptoms, health conditions, and services use were eligible. We incorporated weights available in the survey for each eligible child to reflect the complex sampling design. 104,930 eligible children were identified. The point prevalence of parental depressive symptoms was low (1.8 %, 95 % CI 1.7-2.0), but greater among children with asthma (2.7 %, 95 % CI 2.4-3.0) and ADHD (3.8 %, 95 % CI 3.2-4.4) than among other children (1.6 %, 95 % CI 1.5-1.7). After adjustment for potential confounders, children whose parents reported depressive symptoms most or all of the time were more likely to report an ED visit (adjusted incident rate ratio [IRR] 1.18, 95 % CI 1.06-1.32) or school absence (adjusted IRR 1.36, 95 % CI 1.14-1.63) than children whose parents did not. The effect of parental depressive symptoms was not modified by child health conditions. Parental depressive symptoms were adversely associated with school attendance and ED use in children. These results suggest the importance of measuring depressive symptoms among adult caregivers of children.