Social Work

Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)

Type of Paper/Work

Clinical research paper


Kari Fletcher


The diagnosis and treatment of a serious childhood illness impacts the entire family system and causes a wide range of changes and losses. This research explored the experience of eight families faced with the extended hospitalization of a child and investigated how their experiences could be understood from an ambiguous loss framework. Qualitative interviews were conducted with eight mothers to explore their perception of the changes within the family unit during extended hospitalization. Results indicated families do experience ambiguous loss during extended hospitalization, particularly family boundary ambiguity and the loss of a normative family experience. Participants indicated these losses were related to the ambiguous absence of the patient and caregiver. Social workers should be aware of these unrecognized or uncertain losses and how they impact the entire family system when working with children with a serious medical illness.


childhood illness, ambiguous loss, family systems

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.