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Study 3: What are the unmet needs of parents of injured children?

September 2013 – March 2016
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Presently, no information exists which describes the impact of a child’s injury on a mother, father, brother or sister.  Being the parent of an injured child is coupled with countless stressors throughout the trauma journey, including witnessing the pain, fear and often shocking physical changes in their child; seeing other injured children on the ward and being under constant pressure to make difficult and traumatic decisions.

In the first days after their child’s injury, parental anxiety can be elevated to near panic levels. In fact, more than 60% of parents of children hospitalised after a serious injury are likely to meet the psychological criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  After the initial injury crisis passes, parents must come to terms with the longer term implications of their child’s injury and learn about their care needs.

This study is being undertaken by Sydney Nursing School (University of Sydney) in partnership with Canberra University and is led by Professor Kim Foster.

Process and Status

This longitudinal phase of the program of research involves interviewing up to 30 parents of injured children 0-12 years to understand their perspectives on their child’s injury and the care they received,  and to determine what aspects of care they felt improved their experience within the first 2 years post injury.  Parents will also be invited to keep diaries on aspects of their child’s care journey over the 2 year period.

The primary aim of this study is to highlight potential periods of vulnerability for families and to track their emotional well being over time.

Preliminary Results Summary (written by Professor Kim Foster)

This study investigates the experiences, unmet needs and outcomes of parents of physically injured children 0-12 years over the two year period following injury. We aim to use our findings to make a difference in supporting the needs of families with physically injured children in the future.

We are collecting information through interviews and surveys with parents. This update relates to when the children were first injured and in hospital.

Parents’ experiences:

  • All parents felt distressed about watching their children experience pain and hurt.
  • Parents had huge concerns regarding the emotional well-being of their child post-injury.
  • Parents and other family members experienced a high emotional toll as a result of the injury event and hospitalisation and treatment of the child.
  • Parents recognised there would be a large impact on the family’s way of life after the injury and this disruption to everyday routine could affect everyone in the family.
  • Uppermost in the minds of many parents was that their child was alive and that the care provided by the hospital had been very good.

Parents’ needs:

  • Physical and practical needs including the need for sleep, & for accommodation, parking and food during their child’s hospital stay.
  • Emotional support for themselves, for the injured child and for other family members.
  • Information needs in relation to the injury, its impact on the child, the recovery process and the role of parents in the process.
  • Financial needs especially for those parents who were self-employed or on lower incomes.

In relation to parents’ needs being met by hospital staff:

  • Parents mostly had very positive experiences of staff & the care they and their child received.
  • Staff were described as ‘awesome’ and ‘fantastic’ and parents were ‘very grateful’.
  • Most parents were impressed by the staff who they perceived as being ‘responsive’,
  • ‘genuine’, ‘caring’, ‘good at connecting with the children’, ‘patient’, ‘empathic’, ‘good communicators’ and able to impart information.

The following comments were made in relation to unmet parent needs by staff:

  • Sometimes parents experienced a clash with a staff member in relation to the type of care given to their child.
  • A few parents expressed concerns they felt went unheard by doctors and nurses.
  • Occasionally, parents believed staff did not react quickly enough to their child’s physical distress.

Parents suggested improvements:

  • Hospital staff could support and encourage parents to take a break.
  • Both parents could be allowed to stay overnight.
  • Better communication with parents about transition from hospital to home.
  • Cheaper parking, better food choices and easy access to accommodation.

‘I definitely am thankful. I feel blessed and lucky. Lucky that we all came out of it because it could have ended so differently and I just really think the care we’ve got has been phenomenal, it’s pretty amazing.’ (Mother)

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