AMELIA ISLAND, FloridaA research-based psychosocial intervention especially geared to the needs of children whose parents have cancer is of great benefit, offering emotional support at a time when their fears can be overwhelming, Peter van Dernoot said at the American Psychosocial Oncology Society Third Annual Conference (abstract V-1).
Mr. van Dernoot is the founder, chairman of the board, and executive director of The Children's Treehouse Foundation, (CTF), headquartered in Denver. The Foundation's mission, he said, "is to ensure that every child whose parent is diagnosed with cancer is given the early tools and the emotional support to cope with the repressive anxieties, confusion, anger, and even a sense of guilt that children will often have."
There will be many such children, he said. "The need is absolutely enormous. According to the American Cancer Society, virtually every single year more than 315,000 parents up to age 54 will be diagnosed with invasive cancer, and these parents have more than 582,000 children under the age of 18. In Colorado, it's 51,000 parents every single year and more than 4,000 children to age 18."
As part of its efforts to help these children and their parents, the CTF trains oncology support personnel (ie, nurses, social workers, psychologists) to implement an intervention program called CLIMB (Children's Lives Include Moments of Bravery). The program meets once a week for 6 weeks and improves the children's capacity to learn how to express, communicate, and cope with feelings. "Children find the program very fulfilling. They may be the only kid in their class who has a parent with cancer. CLIMB helps them realize they are not alone," Mr. van Dernoot said.
In a related presentation, Kathleen McCue, MA, LSW, of The Gathering Place, Cleveland (a community-based cancer support center), described other types of therapeutic activities besides support groups that help children whose parents or other significant adults in their lives have cancer (abstract V-3).
"Support groups don't always work, despite our good intentions and no matter how hard we try," Ms. McCue said. The reasons such groups may be hard to manage are numerous: "Because patients live too far apart; because families are in such chaos they can't get together on a Wednesday night on a regular basis; because groups are not a familiar thing to certain cultural groups; because children are at so many different levels of development, so if you put a 5-year-old together with a 12-year-old and a 16-year-old, it just doesn't make sense; or because the disease or prognosis is so different," she commented.
She outlined four alternative intervention strategies to help children cope.