Children with chronic illnesses have a heightened risk for mental health problems.
To develop, implement, and evaluate child outcomes of a 15-month, community-based, family-support intervention designed to reduce risk for poor adjustment and mental health problems in children with 1 of 4 chronic illnesses (diabetes mellitus, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, or moderate to severe asthma) and their mothers.
Randomized, controlled clinical trial design with multiple measures of mental health based on both child and parent reports taken 1 year apart.
Community-based intervention linked to subspecialty and general pediatric clinics and practices in Baltimore, Md.
One hundred thirty-six mothers and children aged 7 to 11 years with diabetes mellitus, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, or moderate to severe asthma.
The program, provided by "experienced mothers" and child life specialists, included telephone contacts, face-to-face visits, and special family events.
Main Outcome Measures
Outcomes were measured using the following instruments: the Personal Adjustment and Role Skills Scale III, the Children's Depression Inventory, the Revised Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale, and the Self-Perception Profile for Children.
The experimental group's mean adjustment score increased over the intervention period while the control group's mean adjustment score decreased. Analysis of variance demonstrated that the intervention had a significant main effect on postintervention adjustment controlling for baseline scores (P = .01). Using a cutoff score indicating maladjustment, the percentage of experimental group children in the maladjustment range fell from 19% at baseline to 10% after the intervention; the percentage of control group children in the maladjustment range rose from 15% at baseline to 21% after the intervention. The effect of the intervention was more pronounced for children who had low physical self-esteem than for those who had moderate to high physical self-esteem at the beginning of the program.
Our results demonstrate modest positive effects of a family support intervention in promoting the adjustment of children with selective chronic health conditions. Including child life specialists in a community-based intervention may be especially salient for children with chronic illnesses who have low physical self-esteem. The intervention had a similar outcome for all diagnostic groups, suggesting that it could be effective for children with any chronic illness and implemented in a variety of pediatric settings.