Disruption of parent participation: nurses' strategies to manage parents on children's wards

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Aims and objectives

To investigate parent participation in the hospitalized child's care from the perspectives of children, parents and nurses.


Parent participation in the hospitalized child's care has been increasingly promoted in paediatric nursing for many years because it ameliorates the adverse aspects of hospitalization, avoids parental separation and contributes to quality care for sick children. Parent participation is assumed to be unproblematic but evidence exists that nurses often have difficulty caring for parents.


Using grounded method, data were collected through in-depth interviews, questionnaires and observation with 12 nurses from four paediatric wards in two hospitals in England.


The dominant process appeared to be the socialization of parents to their role on the ward through inclusionary and exclusionary tactics. Nurses controlled the nature of parents' participation and parents had to ‘toe the line’. Although participation was presented as optional, parents were presented with no course other than acceptance. Parents were expected to stay with their child, behave properly and be involved in care. When parents did not adhere to these norms, they caused disruption to the order and routine of the ward. Compliance or non-compliance to the set of norms and rules was followed by reward or punishment.


The nurses' dependence on parents' active participation in the organization and delivery of the work suggests that parent participation as it is practised is clearly about administrative efficiency, not consumer empowerment.

Relevance to clinical practice

Organizational and managerial issues must be examined to ensure that nurses are adequately prepared and resourced to support parents on the ward. Continuing assessment of parents' expectations though a structured assessment tool would help reduce misunderstandings and conflict. Nurses should assess the situational context before relying on subjective impressions and assumptions about parents' participation in care.

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