Challenges and support needs of parents and children when a parent is at end of life : a systematic review

Hanna, Jeffrey R. and McCaughan, Eilís and Semple, Cherith J. (2019) Challenges and support needs of parents and children when a parent is at end of life : a systematic review. Palliative Medicine Journal, 33 (8). pp. 1017-1044. (

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Background: Preparing children for the death of a parent is challenging. Parents are often uncertain if and how to communicate and support their children. Many parents feel it is protecting their children by not telling them about the prognosis. Children less prepared for parental death from a terminal illness are more susceptive to later adversities. To facilitate coping and moderate for such adversities, there is a need to gain insight and understand the experience and challenges confronted by families. Aim: This review synthesised evidence on the experiences of parents and children when a parent is at end of life to discern their challenges, support needs and factors that facilitated good practice. Design: Mixed methods systematic review. Data sources: Four electronic databases (CINAHL, PubMed, PsychINFO and Ovid MEDLINE) using MeSH terms and word searches in October, 2018. Studies were not limited by year of publication, language or country. Grey literature searches were also completed on Google Scholar and OpenGrey. Results: 7829 records were identified. 27 qualitative and 0 quantitative studies met the inclusion criteria. Eight descriptive themes were identified, further categorised into two broad themes: (1) barriers and facilitators in sharing the news that a parent is dying and (2) strategies to manage the changing situation. Conclusion: Lack of understanding in relation to the parent’s prognosis, denial and feeling ill-equipped were suggested as barriers for parents to share the news with their children. Engagement with social net-works, including extended family relatives and peers and maintaining routines such as attending school were suggested supportive by parents and children. Findings are limited primarily to white, middle-class two parent families. A number of areas for future research are identified.