This review brings together for the first time the existing quantitative and qualitative research evidence about the experiences of parents caring for a child with a cleft. It summarizes salient themes on the emotional, social and service-related experiences of parents and critiques the literature to date, comparing it with wider, selected literature from the field of children's long-term conditions, including disability. The review suggests that there are similarities and differences between the literatures, in terms of research focus and approach. Similarities are found across children's conditions in the perspectives of parents on emotional, social and service-related aspects, although much of the cleft literature is focused on the early stages of children's lives. However, the quality of cleft research to date about parents' experiences has also been variable, with a narrow emphasis on cross-sectional, deficit-orientated psychological approaches focused mainly on mothers. Despite a substantial literature, little qualitative research has examined parents' perspectives in-depth, particularly about their child's treatment journey. This contrasts with the wider children's literature, which has traditionally drawn not only on psychological approaches but also on the broader perspectives of sociology, social policy, nursing and health services research, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, often in integrated ways. Such approaches have been able to highlight a greater range of experiences from both mothers and fathers, about caring for a child with a long-term condition and views about treatment. The review identifies a lack of comparable research in the cleft field to examine parents' experiences and needs at different stages of their children's lives. Above all, research is needed to investigate how both mothers and fathers might experience the long-term and complex treatment journey as children become older and to elicit their views about decision making for cleft treatments, particularly elective surgeries. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.