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Children's Health

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Improvements are needed in meeting the spiritual care needs of hospitalized children and their families

Hospital chaplains and other pastoral care providers estimate that 34 percent of the children they visit are chronically ill, and 21 percent are terminally ill. Half or more of these hospitalized children are fearful or anxious, must cope with pain or other symptoms, and are concerned about their relationship with their parents or between their parents. In turn, 60 to 80 percent of their parents are fearful or anxious, find it difficult to cope with their child's pain or other symptoms, wonder about the meaning of their child's suffering, and feel guilty. Unfortunately, health care providers are not trained to detect the spiritual needs of these families, there are few available hospital pastoral care providers, and they are often called in too late to be of much help to the children or their parents, according to a survey supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (K08 HS00002).

Chris Feudtner, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues mailed a survey to pastoral care providers at major children's hospitals throughout the United States. The survey asked about their perceptions of the spiritual care needs of hospitalized children and their parents, barriers to better care, and overall assessment of the current quality of spiritual care in children's hospitals. Pastoral care providers from 115 hospitals in 42 States responded.

The majority of those surveyed strongly agreed that the following methods of providing spiritual care were very effective: empathetic listening, praying with children and families, touch or other forms of silent communication, and performing religious rituals or rites. Most pastoral care providers estimated that their hospitals were providing 60 percent of what they deemed to be ideal spiritual care for these families, which have diverse and substantial needs.

See "Spiritual care needs of hospitalized children and their families: A national survey of pastoral care providers' perceptions," by Dr. Feudtner, Jeff Haney, B.S., and Martha A. Dimmers, M.Div., M.S.W., in the January 2003 Pediatrics 111(1).

Select to access the journal article online.

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