Family care-giving and chronic illness: how parents cope with a child with a sickle cell disorder or thalassaemia.
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There has been increasing interest in the way parents cope with childhood chronic illness and a shift away from merely describing the ‘burdens’ of care. An emphasis on coping by introducing ideas such as co-ordinated, accessible and appropriate service delivery as well as empowerment raises important policy and practice issues for public health. This paper, by drawing on qualitative material from a project evaluating service support to families caring for a child with a haemoglobinopathy, examines how parents cope with their caring responsibilities. First, it discusses the general literature on how carers respond to their role, before examining the specific literature dealing with the response of parents who look after a child with a haemoglobinopathy. Second, it presents the empirical accounts of parents who care for a child with a sickle cell disorder (SCD) or thalassaemia within the context of this broader literature. The paper concludes that all parents found caring stressful and demanding, but accept that they have to cope with the situation for the sake of the child. Parents’ contact with services is an especially important contributory factor to their ability to cope and parents described how services can both hinder and support their caring role. Appropriate professional support can help reduce stress and facilitate coping by offering information, financial help and emotional support. Unsympathetic responses from professionals, or their incompetence, however, meant that many parents identified service provision as part of the problem, potentially undermining their ability to come to terms with the condition.