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The perspectives of children and young people affected by parental life-limiting illness: An integrative review and thematic synthesis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-260
Number of pages15
JournalPalliative medicine
Issue number2
Early online date19 Nov 2020
Accepted/In press2020
E-pub ahead of print19 Nov 2020
Published1 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Marie Curie Research Grants Scheme, grant MCRGS-20171219-8008. Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2020. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


BACKGROUND: Although the death of a parent during childhood is relatively commonplace, the voices of children affected by parental life-limiting illness are under-represented in research evidence. Guidance for healthcare professionals is largely based upon professional opinion rather than the experience of children themselves.

AIM: To synthesise and appraise the literature from primary research with children about their experience of having a parent with a life-limiting illness.

DESIGN: Integrative review and thematic synthesis. Registered on PROSPERO (CRD42019094581).

DATA SOURCES: PsychINFO, Medline, Embase, Scopus and Web of Science were searched, supplemented by searches of grey literature and systematic reviews. There were no restrictions on publication date, and study quality was appraised using the Hawker checklist. Studies reporting the findings of primary research with participants under 18, whose parent has a life-limiting illness, were eligible for inclusion.

RESULTS: Twenty-one papers met the inclusion criteria (n = 13 qualitative; n = 8 quantitative), reporting on n = 18 studies from high-income countries. Findings reveal that throughout parental life-limiting illness, children strive for agency, but are often shielded and excluded by adults. The experience of living with a dying parent is emotionally demanding for children and involves significant caregiving responsibilities. However these children are not passive, developing strategies to cope with the situation and wanting to be involved.

CONCLUSIONS: The review has enabled the voices of children affected by parental life-limiting illness to be heard and will inform the development of guidance for parents and professionals.

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