Palliative care for young people

Saturday 1 April, 2017

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As with palliative care for adults, palliative care for children and teenagers focuses on enhancing quality of life by addressing physical, practical, emotional and spiritual needs, and supporting the family. The team must also consider how the young person's stage of development affects all these needs.

Because there may be uncertainty about the course of a child's illness, elements of palliative care are often introduced early and combined with treatment that aims to actively treat the cancer.

Palliative care for young people involves health professionals with specialised skills in paediatrics (the care of children), as well as palliative care experts. Most children's hospitals have some specialist paediatric palliative care services, which may provide care directly or advise the young person's health care team.

Depending on their circumstances, young people can receive palliative care at home, in hospital or in a paediatric palliative care unit (hospice).

Tailored support

There are a number of organisations that specifically support young people with cancer and their families by providing palliative care, financial assistance, counselling, resources and respite care. These are listed below.

The hospital social worker can also provide support, and may know of other useful networks in your local community.

  • CanTeen – supports young people aged 12–25 affected by cancer and bereavement through an interactive online forum, and resources on palliative care and end-of-life issues. Visit canteen.org.au or call 1800 835 932.
  • Camp Quality – offers support for children aged 0–13 living with cancer, and their families, through each stage of the cancer journey, including palliative care and bereavement. Visit campquality.org.au or call 1300 662 267.
  • Redkite – a charity that supports young people and their families through cancer by providing emotional guidance (including bereavement support), financial assistance and educational services. Visit redkite.org.au or call 1800 733 548.
  • Kids with Cancer Foundation Australia – provides financial assistance to families of children with cancer, and helps fund projects in public hospitals and oncology units. Visit kidswithcancer.org.au or call 1800 255 522.
  • Youth Cancer Services – provide hospital-based cancer treatment and support services for young people aged 15–25. For more information and to find the service closest to you, visit youthcancer.com.au.
  • Palliative Care Australia – provides a detailed resource, Journeys, to help families and carers prepare for situations they may face during their child's illness. You can download this resource from palliativecare.org.au/teenagers-and-children.

Reviewed by: Dr Jan Maree Davis, Area Director, Palliative Care Services, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District Southern Sector, and Conjoint Lecturer, University of New South Wales, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Facilitator, Telephone and Internet Support Groups, Cancer Council NSW; Julie Butterfield, Consumer; Dr Kathryn Dwan, Senior Policy Officer, Palliative Care Australia; Philippa Kirkpatrick, National Policy Manager, Palliative Care Australia; Amanda Maple, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Eileen McNally, Palliative Care Psychosocial Lead, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Patricia Pannell, Clinical Nurse, Central Adelaide Palliative Care Service, SA.