The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for families across the world due to fears about infection risk, increased social isolation, and significant changes in family roles and routines. Families with a child undergoing pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HCT) may be at even greater risk for poor adjustment during COVID-19 given their child’s increased risk for infection. The purpose of the current study was to qualitatively examine the impact of COVID-19 on family adjustment during pediatric HCT to inform clinical care.
Twenty-nine caregivers of children (≤12 years) who underwent an HCT within the past 2 years completed semi-structured qualitative interviews and demographic questionnaires in the first 4 months following initial COVID-19 quarantine.
Twenty-two themes emerged from the interviews using grounded theory methodology. Although nearly half of caregivers described COVID-19 as a stressor, 69% of caregivers reported adequate adjustment to COVID-19. Caregivers generally attributed their positive adjustment to HCT preparing the family for COVID-19 and more difficult adjustment to increased physical or social isolation and COVID-19 amplifying germ fears. The child’s HCT treatment status also had important implications on family adjustment to COVID-19.
Results suggest that families undergoing pediatric HCT are uniquely prepared to cope with the impacts of a global pandemic; however, families experiencing certain risk factors (e.g., more recent transplant, impaired access to social support, reduced access to coping tools) may experience poorer adjustment during pandemics such as COVID-19 and may benefit from increased psychosocial support from their healthcare team.