1. Wallis, Laura


Meeting the needs of parents, siblings, and staff.


Article Content

Families caring for a child with cancer or another chronic illness are, understandably, dealing with extraordinary stress. A recent report describes the development of a respite care program, staffed by volunteers, for caregivers of pediatric cancer patients and their siblings.

Figure. Amanda Wheel... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Amanda Wheeler (left) plays with Rylan Panzeri in the Patient Care Center building of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Photo by Ann-Margaret Hedges / St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Parents of children with special health care needs, particularly those without extended family close by, often find themselves unable to leave their child's room or bedside for things as basic as eating a meal, doing laundry, having a private conversation with clinicians, or just taking a mental break. At St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, which is the largest pediatric cancer hospital in the United States, a discussion about offering respite care began after inpatient nurses noted caregivers had been asking staff to sit with their children while they did such things. The challenge was meeting the caregivers' needs without placing undue burden on the clinical staff. The hospital decided to test the feasibility of hospital-based respite care provided by volunteers.


The four-month pilot program enlisted and trained volunteers to offer breaks in blocks as long as two hours, one day a week, to family caregivers of the patients and their siblings (who are allowed to play on the unit). Not surprisingly, caregivers of infants, toddlers, and young children made the most use of the service. The pilot program was deemed a success by staff members, volunteers, and caregivers alike, and the hospital expanded the program to seven days a week, calling it Helping Hands.


Although this particular program specifically serves oncology patients, the need for such assistance exists in a wide range of health care settings, where caregivers often deal with high levels of stress.-Laura Wallis




Carter KB, Mandrell BN J Pediatr Oncol Nurs. 2013;30(2):109-14