Bereavement support for families following the death of a child from cancer: practice characteristics of Australian and New Zealand paediatric oncology units

J Paediatr Child Health. 2004 Mar;40(3):131-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2004.00313.x.


Objective: The impact of childhood cancer on the patient and family is devastating and results in significant emotional and physical effects on the child and family. An increasing awareness of the role of health care professionals at this time has led to the development of hospital-based bereavement support services. However, many services are not evidence based, and family support varies between institutions. The objective of this study was to determine current practice relating to hospital-based bereavement support programmes.

Methods: A survey of all major tertiary paediatric oncology units in Australia and New Zealand (N = 10) was undertaken. The survey instrument consisted of a 19-item questionnaire with open-ended and closed questions.

Results: Nine hospitals (90%) participated. Most hospitals provided a multidisciplinary bereavement service for approximately one year after a child's death. Programmes varied, but the most common hospital-based supports provided were counselling and support groups. Important findings were: a significant number of hospitals worked from a limited theoretical basis and understanding, did not screen for high risk of complicated grieving, did not formally evaluate their programme, and identified areas of unmet needs.

Conclusion: The majority of paediatric oncology units in Australia and New Zealand provide dedicated multidisciplinary bereavement support services. There is variation in services provided, often due to a lack of resources and staffing. Findings indicate a need to further develop bereavement programmes, improve staff education and support, and increase the availability of resources in this area. Future research should explore the needs of bereaved families, as well as the range of services and evaluation methods that could be implemented as the baseline for 'best practice' hospital-based bereavement programmes.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Child
  • Hospice Care / organization & administration
  • Hospice Care / standards*
  • Hospital Units
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology*
  • New Zealand
  • Surveys and Questionnaires