This paper arises from an ongoing ‘mapping ethics in allied health’ research project. In depth interviews with 6 social workers working in a large paediatric hospital oncology department were analysed using phenomenological methodology.
Communication about a child’s diagnosis, treatment and prognosis in paediatric oncology is an emotional, complex and often uncertain endeavour. Irrespective of the skill of the specialist, parents’ level of understanding and their interpretation of the information they receive is influenced by multiple individual and environmental factors. While social workers play a crucial role in facilitating clear communication, there has been little research that has examined how they balance their multiple roles of assisting parents to interpret and respond to diagnostic and prognostic information; support and advocate for families; and work collaboratively with their health colleagues. This research aims to shed light on the challenges for parents and doctors through the insights of the social worker who hears both sides of the communication process.
Social workers are in a unique position to have insight into both the doctor's intentions and the family's perceptions of critical communications. Through these insights they are able to assist both doctors and parents address the challenges inherent in communication in the emotionally charged paediatric oncology environment.