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Parental death: a systematic review of support experiences and needs of children and parent survivors

Wray, Alexandra ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1743-0288, Pickwell-Smith, Benjamin, Greenley, Sarah, Pask, Sophie, Bamidele, Olufikayo, Wright, Barry, Murtagh, Fliss and Boland, Jason W. (2022) Parental death: a systematic review of support experiences and needs of children and parent survivors. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

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Background Bereaved people need a supportive response from those around them. Knowing children’s and surviving parents' needs following parental death is the first step to ensuring a supportive response. However, no systematic review has reported on this phenomenon.

Aim To systematically identify and synthesise qualitative literature exploring support experiences of parentally bereaved children and surviving parents.

Methods Systematic review with thematic synthesis, following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis guidelines. MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL and the British Nursing Database were searched for relevant papers to September 2021. Included studies were appraised for quality and thematically synthesised using Thomas and Harden’s thematic synthesis framework.

Results Fifteen qualitative studies from nine countries were included. There were four analytical themes from the children’s perspectives (1) Openness of communication with children about death and dying, (2) Children’s challenges of managing change, (3) Navigating emotions, and (4) Children’s acceptability, access and engagement with support. There were three analytical themes from the parents' perspectives: (1) Adjusting as a parent, (2) Supporting their children, and (3) Parent’s acceptability, access and engagement with support.

Conclusions Following a parental death, open and honest communication and involvement in what is happening within the family will help children cope. Both children and parents suppress emotions and avoid conversations to protect each other and those around them. A taboo around death exists and constrains the support some families receive. Childhood bereavement is a public health issue, with a need for professionals and communities to better understand and respond to the needs of bereaved families.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/spcare-2022-003793
School/Department: School of Science, Technology and Health
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/7576

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