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Learning modules

Activity 4: Paediatric palliative care concepts

Definition and standards in paediatric palliative care

The World Health Organisation’s definition for paediatric palliative care includes the principles of:

  • palliative care for children is the active total care of the child's body, mind and spirit, and also involves giving support to the family
  • it begins when illness is diagnosed, and continues regardless of whether or not a child receives treatment directed at the disease
  • health providers must evaluate and alleviate a child's physical, psychological, and social distress
  • effective palliative care requires a broad multidisciplinary approach that includes the family and makes use of available community resources; it can be successfully implemented even if resources are limited
  • it can be provided in tertiary care facilities, in community health centres and in children's homes. [1]

Palliative care standards [2] for children remain the same as they do for adults, with some care priorities that have particular significance including:

  • involving the whole family in the child’s care
  • involving allied health professionals with specialised skills
  • supporting families to care for their sick child as well as other siblings
  • individualising responses to the child's care needs. [3]

Some unique aspects of palliative care for children include:

  • smaller number of children requiring palliative care
  • wider, more diverse range of conditions
  • each child’s developmental factors need to be considered with their care
  • different physiology and pharmacokinetics
  • parents often involved in decision making
  • siblings require developmental appropriate individualised support
  • child’s life-limiting illness has profound effects on all aspects of family life
  • most children with life-limiting conditions are cared for at home
  • the death of a child has profound and prolonged effects on family members and family life, as connections with the child continue after the child's death. [45]

Children with a life-limiting illness can have disabilities that have a compounding effect on their specific palliative care needs.

Thinking points


1. World Health Organisation. (1998). WHO Definition of Palliative Care for Children. Retrieved May 23, 2012, from

2. Palliative Care Australia. (2005). Standards for providing quality palliative care for all Australians. 4 ed, Canberra: Palliative Care Australia. Retrieved November 6, 2012, from

3. Palliative Care Australia. (2010). Journeys: Palliative Care for Children and Teenagers, Canberra: Palliative Care Australia. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from

4. Caresearch. (2010). Paediatrics. Retrieved November 17, 2012, from

5. Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne. (2010). Palliative Care: Paediatrics. Retrieved October 18, 2012, from