New survey highlights the need for support for childhood cancer

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Charity group Redkite has released a new report it says shows a very high unmet need for mental health support services for children with cancer and their siblings.

The organisation, which is focused on childhood cancers, said demand for its services has surged 30 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has released a new report based on the findings of a national survey of over 700 Australian parents and carers of children with cancer.

"It has uncovered a critical gap in the management of childhood cancer beyond hospital treatment – with mental health and wellbeing needs of families requiring urgent prioritisation, particularly with the current backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic," said Redkite in a statement.

The findings show two-thirds of families affected by childhood cancer – nearly 10,000 Australian family members – miss out on specialised emotional and mental health support.

Redkite said there is a "significant urgency" around an estimated 2,500 brothers and sisters of children with cancer with the findings confirming they carry a particularly heavy emotional burden that is not addressed.

The survey found this unmet need is even higher than for children with the cancer diagnosis (51 per cent).

It found 69 per cent of children diagnosed with cancer had ongoing unmet emotional and mental health needs once their treatment had been completed, that more than 1,000 bereaved families do not receive the help they need for their grief and loss, and that families are much more likely to have unmet emotional and mental health needs if they live in a regional or remote location.

“It’s clear there are significant gaps in supporting these families that urgently need to be addressed,” said Tim Rogers, Redkite’s head of Professional Standards and Practice.

“Cancer is a complex trauma impacting every family member - the needs go far beyond the child and the hospital walls. The damage it can inflict on the whole family’s wellbeing is lifelong, no family member is left unscathed.

“While the understandably considerable focus is on the medical treatment, providing psychosocial care to support families with the pressures of relationships, disconnection and isolation is critically important for everyone’s wellbeing.”

“Redkite is a lifeline for families facing childhood cancer. We address the broader, more complex needs which are unseen and often unacknowledged. We are there for families whenever and wherever they need us,” said CEO Monique Keighery. “We do a lot, but there is a limit to how far we can take this and today we are seeking urgent support to address the alarming mental health and emotional challenges every family member is facing.”

Redkite said it is seeking support for important new measures to ensure more families receive the support they need. This includes family and community-based wellbeing, as well as peer support.