Importance of Effective Communication with Children and Adolescents about Illness and Death

Global research has highlighted the importance of communication with children, young people and families about illness and death, and the impact that telling, or not telling, has on both the patient and their family. Effective communication is associated with better psychological outcomes, as well as improved treatment adherence, disease progression and family functioning. A group from the University Oxford will present their findings regarding communication with children during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the experiences of health and social care staff and bereaved families. Recent research to understand the attitudes and beliefs within the UK Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities regarding communication with children about an adult’s serious illness will also be presented. This considers the needs of these previously underrepresented communities in the UK who simultaneously experience large health inequalities. The session will consider different approaches with healthcare professionals and the wider community to increase awareness of the importance of talking to children when an adult has a serious illness.


University of Oxford. United Kingdom

Dr Elizabeth Rapa has worked in the Child and Adolescent group in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford since 2010. With Dr Louise Dalton they co-lead a programme of research understanding how to promote effective communication with children and young people when they or someone they care about is diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, diabetes, heart or lung disease. This work has involved creating a suite of resources to help healthcare professionals, care home staff, teachers and families navigate these sensitive conversations. During the pandemic they created a number of step-by-step guides to facilitate talking to children about COVID and when someone had died of COVID. Their research aims to increase the confidence of healthcare professionals from every discipline in raising the importance of talking to children about illness and improve the mental health of children and their families for generations.