Spiritual, religious, and existential concerns of children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions: A qualitative interview study

Hannah May Scott*, Lucy Coombes, Debbie Braybrook, Anna Roach, Daney Harðardóttir, Katherine Bristowe, Clare Ellis-Smith, Julia Downing, Fliss E.M. Murtagh, Bobbie Farsides, Lorna K. Fraser, Myra Bluebond-Langner, Richard Harding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Despite being a core domain of palliative care, primary data on spiritual and existential concerns has rarely been collected among children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions and their families. Existing evidence has tended to focus on the religious aspects among children with cancer. Aim: To identify the spiritual needs of children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. Design: Cross-sectional semi-structured, qualitative interview study with children, families and health and social care professionals. Verbatim transcripts were analysed using Framework analysis Setting/participants: Purposively sampled children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, their parents and siblings, health and social care professionals recruited from six hospitals and three children’s hospices in the UK, and commissioners of paediatric palliative care services recruited through networks and a national charity. Results: One hundred six participants were interviewed: 26 children (5–17 years), 53 family members (parents/carers of children 0–17 years and siblings (5–17 years)), 27 professionals (health and social care professionals and commissioners of paediatric palliative care). Themes included: living life to the fullest, meaning of life and leaving a legacy, uncertainty about the future, determination to survive, accepting or fighting the future and role of religion. Children as young as 5 years old identified needs or concerns in the spiritual domain of care. Conclusions: Addressing spiritual concerns is essential to providing child- and family-centred palliative care. Eliciting spiritual concerns may enable health and social care professionals to identify the things that can support and enhance a meaningful life and legacy for children and their families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)856-865
Number of pages10
JournalPalliative Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date28 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Child
  • existential concerns
  • palliative care
  • religious concerns
  • spiritual concerns
  • terminal illness

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