The vulnerability of children when a parent is diagnosed with cancer may depend on a variety of variables. The current study examined the impact of characteristics of 180 parents diagnosed with cancer, along with 145 spouses, on the prevalence of emotional and behavioral problems in children.
Ill parents provided information on sociodemographics and illness-related variables and on the prevalence of problems in children by using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Both parents completed the two subscales that measure physical functioning and mental health of the RAND-36.
The family situation (single parents, no or few siblings, oldest child) was one of the most important predictors of reported problems in primary school children, whereas adolescents were reported as having more problems when parents experienced treatment complications. A decrease in ill parents' physical functioning affected primary school daughters and adolescents, and both age groups were affected by the mental health of ill parents. Problems of ill fathers did not have a different impact on children from those of ill mothers. Spouses' physical limitations were indicative for problems in primary school children, whereas a worsening parental mental health was indicative for problems in adolescents.
Findings illustrated that parents' characteristics must be taken into account when assessing vulnerability of children in this situation. Which variables particularly heighten the risk for problems depend on children's ages. Cancer 2006. © 2006 American Cancer Society.