Most pediatric clinicians aspire to promote the physical, emotional, and developmental well-being of children, hoping to bestow a long and healthy life. Yet, some infants, children, and adolescents confront life-threatening illnesses and life-shortening conditions. Over the past 70 years, the clinician’s response to the suffering of these children has evolved from veritable neglect to the development of pediatric palliative care as a subspecialty devoted to their care. In this article, we review the history of how clinicians have understood and responded to the suffering of children with serious illnesses, highlighting how an initially narrow focus on anxiety eventually transformed into a holistic, multidimensional awareness of suffering. Through this transition, and influenced by the adult hospice movement, pediatric palliative care emerged as a new discipline. Becoming a discipline, however, has not been a panacea. We conclude by highlighting challenges remaining for the next generation of pediatric palliative care professionals to address.
Background. Development of a pediatric palliative care program was preceded by a needs assessment that included a staff survey and family interviews regarding improving pediatric palliative care. Methods. Four hundred forty-six staff members and community physicians responded to a written survey regarding comfort and expertise in delivering end of life care. Sixty-eight family members of 44 deceased children were interviewed regarding treatment, transition to palliative care, and bereavement follow-up contact. Frequencies were generated for responses to the staff survey. Five interviewers reviewed the families' narratives and identified frequently occurring themes. Results. Staff members reported feeling inexperienced in communicating with patients and families about end of life issues, transition to palliative care, and do not resuscitate status. Families reported distress caused by uncaring delivery of bad news and careless remarks made by staff members. Staff members reported feeling inexperienced in symptom and pain management and described occasions when pain could have been better managed. Families believed pain had been managed as well as possible despite observing their children suffer. Fifty-four percent of staff members reported that adequate support was not provided for those who treat dying children. Staff members and family members stated their desire for more support. Staff members who described their most difficult experiences caring for a dying child referenced personal pain and inadequate support most frequently. Conclusions. Albeit from different perspectives, staff members and family members shared common concerns and experiences regarding pediatric palliative care. These experiences emphasize the need for additional systematic study, improved education and support for staff members, and continued development of more effective and compassionate delivery of pediatric palliative care.