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Keywords:

  • parental involvement;
  • children with complex health care needs;
  • role negotiation;
  • nursing roles;
  • community-based care

Negotiating lay and professional roles in the care of children with complex health care needs

Background. Children with complex health care needs are now being cared for at home as a result of medical advances and government policies emphasizing community-based care. The parents of these children are involved in providing care of a highly technical and intensive nature that in the past would have been the domain of professionals (particularly nurses).

Aims of the paper. To assess how the transfer of responsibility from professionals to parents was negotiated, the tensions and contradictions that can ensue, and the implications for professional nursing roles and relationships with parents.

Design. Using a Grounded Theory methodology, in-depth interviews were conducted with 23 mothers, 10 fathers and 44 professionals to gain insight into the experience of caring for children and supporting families in the community.

Findings. From the parents’ perspective, their initial assumption of responsibility for the care of their child was not subject to negotiation with professionals. Prior to discharge, parents’ feelings of obligations, their strong desire for their child to come home, and the absence of alternatives to parental care in the community, were the key motivating factors in their acceptance of responsibility for care-giving from professionals. The professionals participating in the study had concerns over whether this group of parents was given a choice in accepting responsibility and the degree of choice they could exercise in the face of professional power. However, it was following the initial discharge, as parents gained experience in caring for their child and in interacting with professionals, that role negotiation appeared to occur.

Conclusion. This study supports other research that has found that professionals’ expectations of parental involvement in the care of sick children role can act as a barrier to negotiation of roles. In this study, parental choice was also constrained initially by parents’ feelings of obligation and by the lack of community services. Nurses are ideally placed to play the central role not only in ensuring that role negotiation and discussion actually occurs in practice, but also by asserting the need for appropriate community support services for families. Being on home territory, and in possession of expertise in care-giving and in managing encounters with professionals, provided parents with a sense of control with which to enter negotiations with professionals. It is important that changes in the balance of power does not lead to the development of parent–professional relationships that are characterized by conflict rather than partnership.