Early Traumatic Stress Responses in Parents Following a Serious Illness in Their Child: A Systematic Review

Claudia Woolf, Frank Muscara, Vicki A. Anderson, Maria C. Mccarthy

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40 Citations (Scopus)


A systematic review of the literature investigating the early traumatic stress responses in parents of children diagnosed with a serious illness/injury. A literature review was conducted (September 2013) using Medline, PsycINFO, and CINAHL databases. Twenty-four studies related to parents of children hospitalized due to diagnosis of cancer, type 1 diabetes, meningococcal disease, trauma or serious injury, preterm birth and other serious illnesses requiring admission to intensive care were included. Parents were assessed for early traumatic stress symptoms within 3 months of their child’s diagnosis/hospitalization. Prevalence rates of acute stress disorder in parents ranged from 12 to 63 %. Prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder ranged from 8 to 68 %. Variability was related to methodological factors including differences in study design, timing of assessments, measurement tools, and scoring protocols. Psychosocial factors rather than medical factors predicted parent distress. This review integrates and compares early traumatic reactions in parents with children suffering a range of serious illnesses. Findings suggest a high prevalence of acute and posttraumatic stress symptoms in parents. Methodological inconsistencies made comparison of early traumatic stress prevalence rates difficult. Risk factors associated with traumatic stress symptoms were identified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-66
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Children/adolescents
  • Coping
  • Families/couples
  • Psychological assessment

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