OBJECTIVE. We sought to inform decision-making for children and families by describing what is known and remains unknown about the impact of childhood critical illness and injury on families. This report also was designed as a tool for research planning and design so that meaningful studies are performed and duplication is avoided.
DESIGN. After a national scholarship competition and the identification of 3 medical student summer scholars, a literature search was conducted by using the National Library of Medicine and a PubMed keyword search system at the National Institutes of Health.
RESULTS. A total of 115 reports were reviewed and assigned to the 5 following categories characterizing the impact of pediatric critical illness/injury on families: stressors, needs, specific domains (psychological, physical, social), coping, and interventions. The reports reviewed indicate that pediatric critical illness and injury is stressful for the entire family. The effects on parents, siblings, and marital cohesion were variably described. Needs of family members (eg, rest, nutrition, communication) were identified as being unmet in many studies. Permanent impact on siblings and marital relationships has been considered detrimental, but these conclusions are not adequately quantified in presently available studies. Reviewed reports minimally investigated cultural diversity, effects on fathers versus mothers, siblings, socioeconomic status, and financial burden. Studies were often anecdotal and included small sample sizes. Methodologic limitations were numerous and varied and seriously narrowed the significance of the studies we reviewed. The reports that we evaluated were largely limited to those of English-speaking families, white people, and married mothers.
CONCLUSIONS. Future research should use more rigorous methods in the measurement of impact of childhood critical illness and injury on families. Families of critically ill and injured children would benefit from the practitioners of pediatric critical care acquiring enhanced knowledge and sensitivity about famliy communication and dynamics.