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The role of emotional social support in the psychological adjustment of siblings of children with cancer

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Barrera, M.; Fleming, C. F.; Khan, F. S.

BACKGROUND: Siblings of children with cancer are at risk for reduced emotional support. The role of emotional social support in the psychological adjustment of siblings of paediatric cancer patients was examined, in the context of age and gender. METHODS: The sample consisted of two groups of siblings of children being treated for cancer: siblings referred for behaviour problems (n = 47) and a comparison group of non-referred siblings (n = 25). Forty-two were female, and 30 were male. The mean age was 10.31 years (SD = 2.71). Siblings completed measures of depression, anxiety, behaviour, and emotional social support. One parent of each sibling completed measures of sibling’s behaviour and anxiety. RESULTS: Siblings who reported more social support endorsed significantly fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fewer behaviour problems, and their parents reported less anxiety and fewer behaviour problems than siblings who reported lower social support. Parents of referred siblings reported significantly more behaviour problems than parents of non-referred siblings. Referred adolescent females reported significantly higher depression scores and were perceived as more anxious than referred adolescent males and non-referred adolescent females. Non-referred younger siblings with high social support were perceived by their parents as having the fewest behaviour problems. CONCLUSIONS: High level of social support appears to play a protective role in psychological adjustment of siblings of paediatric cancer patients, with age and gender as modifying factors. Although not all siblings develop behaviour or emotional problems, it is critical to identify those who do in order to intervene accordingly.

Research abstracts