‘It’s turned our world upside down’: Support needs of parents of critically injured children during ED admission

Professor Kim Foster1,2, Dr Alexandra Young3, Associate Professor Rebecca Mitchell4, Professor Kate Curtis3, Dr Connie  Van3

1Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia; 2Northwestern Mental Health, Melbourne Health, Melbourne, Australia; 3Sydney Nursing School, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia; 4Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

Introduction: Being the parent of a critically injured child involves many stressors. Parents are at risk of psychological distress and the entire family can be negatively impacted. Little is known however, about parent experiences and support needs when their child is in the Emergency Department (ED) following critical injury.

Method: This research is part of a 2 year longitudinal multi-centre mixed methods study on parent experiences and unmet needs when their child is critically injured. Forty parents of 30 critically injured children 0-12 years were recruited across 4 Australian states.  This presentation reports on qualitative findings from the initial injury period, and parent experiences of ED admission.  Forty semi-structured interview transcripts were analysed using content analysis methods, to identify parent experiences and unmet needs.

Results: On ED admission, parents were emotionally traumatized by the nature and impacts of their child’s injury event. Most events (n=16) were motor vehicle collisions and 12 parents had multiple injured family members including partners. Parents grappled with prioritising different injured family member needs at the one time. Parents were initially shocked about the injury event and focused on the child’s needs rather their own. They were challenged by the unfamiliar and confronting environment of ED and their primary concern was their child’s survival and fear of the unknown. Key parent support needs were contemporaneous and honest information about their child’s injury and required treatment; involvement in key treatment decision-making; and staff acknowledgement of the severity of the situation and emotional impact on parents. Most parents found the clinical care of their child to be timely and professional.

Conclusion: Provision of a dedicated family support coordinator in ED and focused attention to parent emotional needs at the time of injury are recommended to improve parent psychological outcomes.


Alexandra (Lexie) Young is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at Sydney University. Her background is in sociology and social work and she has undertaken studies in the fields of family policy, education and end of life care. Lexie is currently working on the Day of Difference Foundation’s Paediatric Critical Injury Research Program which focusses on finding real world solutions to improve the care of injured children and their families.