Objectives: To examine changes in family functioning from injury to 3 years after pediatric traumatic brain injury; to determine factors most predictive of family outcomes at 3 years and variables that promote positive outcomes and changes over time.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Two regional tertiary care centers: cases followed for 3 years into community.
Participants: Families of 81 children, ages 6 to 15 years, who sustained closed head injury and loss of consciousness (mild = 43, moderate = 20, severe = 18), consecutively enrolled over 15 months.
Main outcome measures: Family Environment Scale, Family Assessment Device, Family Inventory of Life Events, Health Insurance Survey-General Well-Being, NYU Problem Checklist for Significant Others, Family Interview Rating Scale, Family Global Assessment Scale. All were obtained initially and at 3 months, 1 year, and 3 years postinjury. Predictor variables were selected from the instruments above, as well as from the parent and teacher versions of the Child Behavior Checklist, socioeconomic status, and injury severity.
Results: Preinjury functioning was the best predictor of 3-year outcomes. Fewer changes in family functioning were reported over 3 years in the mild or moderate groups, whereas more deterioration occurred in the severe group. At 3 years, one third to one half of parents in either the moderate or severe groups reported medium to high strain in 19 of 34 problem areas. Low levels of family control and high levels of expressiveness correlated with better outcomes for severe group. Positive change for the severe group was marked by better preinjury levels of communication, expressiveness, problem solving, use of resources, role flexibility, greater activity orientation, and less conflict, control, and stress. Preinjury variables and severity explained from 26% to 69% of the variation in 3-year outcomes.
Conclusions: Families at risk for poorer outcomes can be prospectively identified and should be supported and encouraged in their efforts to develop new coping resources.