Describing the psychosocial profile and unmet support needs of parents caring for a child with a life-limiting condition: A cross-sectional study of caregiver-reported outcomes

Palliat Med. 2020 Mar;34(3):358-366. doi: 10.1177/0269216319892825. Epub 2020 Feb 27.


Background: There is a lack of studies examining the prevalence and severity of psychosocial distress in parents caring for a child with life-limiting condition. More research is also needed to better understand the experience, support needs and quality-of-life of this population.

Aim: To describe the experience and support needs of caring for children with life-limiting conditions and examine the level of distress and quality-of-life experienced by parents.

Design: Cross-sectional, prospective, quantitative study guided by an advisory group. Participants completed a survey that included demographics and self-report outcome measures of unmet support needs, appraisal of caregiving, psychological distress and quality-of-life. Bivariate correlation analyses were performed to examine for associations between measures.

Setting/participants: Parents currently caring for one or more children (⩽18 years) with a life-limiting condition and registered with a paediatric palliative care service (Australia).

Results: In total, 143 parents (88% female) completed the questionnaire (36% RR). Compared with population norms, participants reported low quality-of-life, high carer burden and high psychological distress. Almost half (47%) of the sample met the criteria for one or more diagnoses of clinically elevated stress, anxiety or depression. There were significant associations between the psychosocial outcome variables; carer strain and depression had the strongest correlations with quality-of-life (r = -.63, p < .001, for both). Participants also reported multiple unmet needs related to emotional and practical support.

Conclusions: This study contributes to the growing body of evidence on paediatric palliative care, specifically that parents caring for a child with a life-limiting condition report high levels of distress and burden, low quality-of-life and need more emotional and practical support targeted at their unmet needs. Paediatric palliative care services should routinely assess parent mental health and provide appropriate support.

Keywords: Palliative care; caregiver; paediatrics; psychological; quality of life; stress; terminally ill.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Critical Illness / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Victoria