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Published: 10 February 2014

Surrey secures funding for vital cancer care research

'Think Family' project aims to improve support for vulnerable children with a seriously ill family member.

Bereavement during childhood can have a lasting impact throughout adult life.  But access to professional support for children with a terminally ill parent varies, with families often only directed towards it at a late stage, for example, when a child starts being disruptive at school.

Thanks to Surrey research, this could change.

Dr Anne Arber, Senior Lecturer in Cancer and Palliative Care, is leading a project that aims to create an easy-to-use tool that will enable cancer care professionals to record whether patients with advanced cancer have any children, and if so, find out what support they might receive or need.

The tool is being developed following interviews with nurses and doctors from the oncology department at Frimley Park Hospital and an analysis of cancer patients’ medical notes to identify what information is recorded about dependent children and their needs.

The ‘Think Family’ project is being funded by a £10,000 grant from Jigsaw, A Surrey charity that offers grief support to children and young people, supported by Macmillan Cancer Support.

Dr Arber said: “Parents often find it difficult to talk to their children about this issue, and it is a very sensitive area for health care professionals. Support services and pre-bereavement programmes are available, but many people are unaware of them, or families don’t get referred to them until it’s too late. It may be that the family has got the help it needs, but you need to assess it. Research suggests a traumatic experience in childhood can have lasting impact on people’s lives.

“The tool aims to prompt staff to ask about children, find out their ages and see what support the family already has. This will then allow the potential need to be assessed before the child reaches crisis point, so the family can be put on a pathway to referral, if appropriate.”

Researchers hope to secure funding to pilot the tool nationally, following local development and testing.

Discover more about research within the School of Health and Social Care.