Support for the family of a child with cancer

Support for the family of a child with cancer

The responses of individuals within a family when there is a diagnosis of cancer can cover a wide range of emotions. You and your family should know you are not alone and that support is available.

What to expect following a child's cancer diagnosis

The responses of individuals within a family when there is a diagnosis of cancer:

  • can cover a wide range of emotions
  • can vary in intensity and duration
  • can occur and recur unexpectedly

For adults there may be any mix of feelings; denial, anger, guilt, grief, fear, blame, confusion, worry, sadness and a sense of loss. For children and adolescents there may also be behavioural changes.

While you're going through all of this, there is also a new requirement for your family to understand medical information, to discover how to navigate the health system and to learn the mechanics of continuing to live well with your child's illness.

Additionally, your family may notice the effects of:

  • caring for your child having cancer treatment which may continue for any time from four months to three years
  • the effort of continuing work commitments and household and family activities while caring for your sick child
  • the demands of caring for other children in your family in the new situation which may be puzzling for them
  • the impact on inter-family relationships and relationships with friends

You and your family should know you are not alone and that support is available.

The social worker

When a child is diagnosed with cancer it can be physically and emotionally taxing for the whole family. At this time, families can find themselves in situations ranging from turmoil to crisis. The role of the hospital social worker is to help organise emotional and practical support for your family whether you need it when in hospital with your child, in your own home or within your community.

How do we find the social worker at the hospital?

When you and your child arrive on the ward at the hospital, a social worker will be told about your admission. The social worker will arrange to meet you and discuss the various types of support available for your family.

What kind of practical support is available?

Practical support can include help with things such as:

  • accommodation
  • travel benefits
  • parking
  • child care
  • finance

What kind of emotional support is available?

Emotional support can include:

  • organising crisis counselling
  • making psychological assessments
  • acting as an advocate in family meetings
  • offering stress management strategies
  • making suggestions about sibling care
  • advising about inter-family relationships

What kind of cultural support is available?

Cultural support can include:

  • referral to the hospital Māori or Pacific Island health team when cultural support is requested by the patient or family / whānau 
  • suggesting referral to the hospital Māori or Pacific Island health team or community Māori health provider when this assistance may help to positively influence outcomes or enable goals to be more easily reached

What kind of spiritual support is available?

Spiritual support can include:

  • making referral to a spiritual advisor or pastoral carer from the hospital or community
  • making referral to the Māori health team when there is a request for karakia before a procedure

Child phychologist

It is common for support from a child psychologist to be made available.

Tell your doctor at the hospital if you would like some assistance with behavioural changes that you notice in your child.

Community support

CCF (The Child Cancer Foundation) is a national organisation which offers emotional and practical support to children with cancer and their families. The Foundation provides support through:

  • the family support coordinators in the four divisions in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, who are available to support families from the time of diagnosis
  • the family support workers in the 23 branches throughout the country, who provide social activities for families in their areas, as well as practical, emotional and some financial support

CanTeen is a special interest division of CCF dedicated to supporting young people living with cancer. It is a peer support network with educational and recreational activities, for cancer patients or siblings between 13 and 24 years of age. 'CanTeeners' support each other at home and in hospital.

For CCF and CanTeen contact information, see:

For information about more support organisations and websites, see:

Where to go for information and support

On this website:
Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support


All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 22 July 2013.
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