A retrospective study of the outcome of home mechanical ventilation in 54 children with chronic respiratory insufficiency was conducted. The children's ages ranged from 4 months to 18 years. Tracheostomies and positive pressure ventilation were used in 33 patients, and negative pressure ventilation in 21 patients. Nine patients were eventually weaned from the ventilator, including three quadriplegic patients in whom electrophrenic stimulation subsequently was used. Over 20 years, there were 17 deaths, including three from ventilator disconnection. Life table analysis showed 1-year survival to be 84%, and 5-year survival 65%. Home mechanical ventilation, with patients cared for by family and friends, cost less (average less than $1000/mo) than registered nurse or hospital care (average $16,000/mo). There was no significant difference in the number of deaths between patients cared for by registered nurses 24 hours a day and those cared for by family and friends. Home mechanical ventilation may be a reasonably safe and cost-effective alternative to prolonged hospitalization for the ventilator-dependent child.