Providing care to parents dying from cancer with dependent children: Health and social care professionals' experience

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OBJECTIVE: Parents often feel ill-equipped to prepare their dependent children (<18 years old) for the death of a parent, necessitating support from professionals. The aim of this study is to explore health and social care professionals' (HSCPs) experiences and perceptions of providing supportive care to parents regarding their children, when a parent is dying from cancer.

METHODS: Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 32 HSCPs, including nurses, allied health professionals, social workers and doctors from specialist or generalist roles, across acute or community sectors.

RESULTS: HSCPs' perceptions of the challenges faced by many families when a parent is dying from cancer included: parental uncertainties surrounding if, when and how to tell the children that their parent was dying, the demands of managing everyday life, and preparing the children for the actual death of their parent. Many HSCPs felt ill-equipped to provide care to parents at end of life concerning their children. The results are discussed under two themes: (1) hurdles to overcome when providing psychological support to parents at end of life and (2) support needs of families for the challenging journey ahead.

CONCLUSIONS: There appears to be a disparity between HSCPs' awareness of the needs of families when a parent is dying and what is provided in practice. HSCPs can have a supportive role and help equip parents, as they prepare their children for the death of their parent. Appropriate training and guideline provision could promote this important aspect of end of life care into practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-339
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Early online date31 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 14 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to express our warm and sincere thanks to the 32 health and social care professionals who volunteered time, and consented to participate in this research. We also extend our gratitude to Dr Geraldine Horigan for her assistance in obtaining ethical approvals for this research, and to Mr Roger Theis for his transcription assistance. Finally, we extend our thanks to Prof Kader Parahoo and Dr Brenda O'Neill at the Institute of Nursing and Health Research, Ulster University, for insightful and helpful comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. This work was funded by the UK Department for the Economy (DfE), awarded to the lead author [Jeffrey R. Hanna] to undertake this research as part of his PhD.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • dying
  • end of life
  • health professionals
  • oncology
  • parental cancer
  • parental life-limiting illness
  • parents
  • psycho-oncology
  • psychosocial support
  • qualitative research
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • Health Personnel/psychology
  • Child of Impaired Parents/psychology
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Child
  • Psychosocial Support Systems
  • Parents/psychology
  • Social Support
  • Terminal Care/psychology
  • Neoplasms/mortality
  • Adolescent
  • Perception
  • Qualitative Research
  • limiting illness


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