Trauma Informed Care: Addressing FAMILY NEEDS

Addressing Family needs includes assessing family stressors and resources, and recognizing that a child’s injury or illness impacts the entire family - parents, siblings, and other family members may also be distressed and may have traumatic stress reactions.

While referral to social work or child life services may be a part of the picture, there is much that frontline health care professionals are uniquely positioned to do.



How do I do this?

  • Remember that family members can have a wide range of reactions to a child’s illness, injury, hospital stay.
  • Check in with parents. Give them the opportunity to voice their fears, worries, and concerns.
  • When a parent is angry, irritable, or seems absent / withdrawn, listen for what may be “underneath”.
  • Support parents in taking a break and getting some rest and self-care, but recognize that parents may be reluctant to leave their child unless they feel confident that their child is OK while they are away.
  • As you talk with parents about their child’s condition and treatment plan, keep in mind that parents who are worried, exhausted, and juggling many demands at work and home may need to hear the same information more than once.
  • Ask how siblings are doing, and look for ways for the child and his/her siblings to stay in touch via visits (if appropriate) or via phone, text, video call.

Helping parents cope with their own responses and participate effectively in their child’s care can have long range benefits for your pediatric patients.


Case Example: Meet James (and his family)

James, age 16, was admitted to the oncology unit a week ago. His mother has been present most days, and both parents have taken turns staying overnight. James’ mother has seemed calm, but she mentioned to you yesterday that she is exhausted and feeling the strain. You’ve heard from colleagues that James’ dad has been impatient with staff, even rude at times. When you enter James’ room for the first time this morning, both parents are present. James’ dad says, “Finally someone’s here. The nurses here never come when we need them.”


What would you do next?

To address Family needs, you might:

  • Listen to James’ dad’s concerns and frustrations and address what you can. After he has had a chance to voice his frustrations, say that often a new diagnosis can be almost as hard on the family as on the patient and ask what concerns him most right now.
  • Remember to check in with James’ mom about how she is doing in this challenging situation. Even when a parent seems calm and ‘together’, checking in with them is important.
  • If James has siblings, ask how they are dealing with James being in the hospital, and talk about visits and staying in touch.

Want to learn more about addressing family needs in order to support your patients’ care? Take an interactive online course “F is for Family” - with free CE credits for nurses.