Parents' experiences of initiation of paediatric advance care planning discussions: A qualitative study

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Advance care planning enables parents to discuss their goal and wishes for the future treatment and care of their life-limited or life-threatened child. Whilst research has identified the barriers clinicians face to initiate such discussions, the views of the parents have received scant attention. This qualitative study, using reflexive thematic analysis, aimed to explore parents’ experience of the initiation of their child’s advance care planning discussions, to help provide an understanding to inform future practice. Single interviews were undertaken with 17 non-bereaved and bereaved parents. Parents reported they had engaged with future thinking but needed time before initiating this with clinicians. They identified the need for a trusted professional and time for private, thorough, non-judgemental discussion without feeling clinicians were ‘giving up’. Parents reported that advance care planning discussions were not always aligned to the dynamics of family life. They felt that health professionals were responsible for initiating advance planning conversations according to the families’ individual requirements. There was an apparent lack of standardised protocols to assist paediatric advance care planning discussion initiation. Conclusion: Initiating advance care planning is a complicated process that needs to be tailored to the specific parent and child situation. Health professionals need to appreciate that parents are key contributors to initiate engagement with advance care planning discussions but that they also require support and care, recognising this may facilitate the building of trust, identified as a key corner stone, of paediatric advance care planning initiation and engagement.What is Known:• In paediatric palliative care, parents are challenged with wanting to sustain hope whilst thinking and planning for their child’s end of life. Paediatric advance care planning discussions are often delayed or avoided and triggered by physical deterioration.What is New:• Previous relationship with HCP not essential but parental trust of the HCP is fundamental to Paediatric advance care planning initiation engagement. To build mutual trust health professionals’ approach needs to be professional, respectful and empathetic to the parent and child’s situation.• Subtle paediatric advance care planning parent initiation preparation by HCP is often unnoticed by parents but may be the crux of empowering parents to initiate advance care planning conversations themselves as they need to feel a sense of regaining control before planning ahead.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Pediatrics
Early online date16 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 16 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the UK Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) awarded to the lead author to undertake this research as part of a PhD.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Advance care planning
  • Children
  • Palliative care
  • Goals of care
  • Initiation


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