Research in practice

What are the experiences of parents who have witnessed the resuscitation of their child?

Literature review of on family-witnessed resuscitation: an extended abstract

When Samantha Mather was an undergraduate she undertook a review of the literature on family-witnessed resuscitation. Here we publish an extended abstract of her work 

Picture: iStock


Parental and family presence should be encouraged during resuscitation of children, but it is not always given. There is little research into parental and family experiences during cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or into the potential beneficial or detrimental psychosocial effects of family presence on families and healthcare professionals (Strasen et al 2016).


Key terms were identified using the population, intervention, comparison, outcome (PICO) framework (O’Connor et al 2011) and were used on the EBSCO host platform to search separately four databases: CINAHL, Medline, Academic Search Complete and e-Journals. Citation searching was used to identify other studies that could be included in the literature review.

A meta-synthesis was used to assimilate findings from different, but related qualitative studies (Walsh and Down 2005, Aveyard 2014). Thematic analysis was used to synthesise the findings and develop common themes from the included papers (Braun and Clarke 2006).


Six papers were included in the review and four themes were developed (McGahey-Oakland et al 2007, Maxton 2008, Tinsley et al 2008, Harvey and Pattison 2012, Gaudreault and Carnevale 2012, Sawyer et al 2015):

  • Parental presence provides comfort for the parent and the child.
  • Knowing that everything possible had been done for the child.
  • Understanding severity of the situation.
  • Outcome and appropriate support mechanisms.

Most parents said that witnessing resuscitation had helped them to understand the event and with their grieving. These findings align with current guidelines, although it would seem these are not always implemented consistently. Fathers reported significant issues with support during and after resuscitation, which resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder-related symptoms (Harvey and Pattison 2012).

Implications for education, research and practice

Nurses and other healthcare professionals need more access to training in assisting and guiding parents during resuscitation of their child, and local policies to support staff roles should be implemented more consistently. Research into fathers’ experiences of resuscitation and the views of parents on medical jargon in relation to their understanding of resuscitation is needed.


Undertaking this work as a final year pre-registration student highlighted the importance of having the skills needed to conduct literature searches.


  • Aveyard H (2014) Doing a Literature Review in Health and Social Care: A Practical Guide. McGraw Hill Open University Press, Maidenhead.
  • Braun V, Clarke V (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. 3, 2, 77-101.
  • Gaudreault J, Carnevale F (2012) Should I stay or should I go? Parental struggles when witnessing resuscitative measures on another child in the pediatric intensive care unit. Pediatric Critical Care Medicine. 13, 2, 146-151.
  • Harvey H, Pattison H (2012) Being there: a qualitative interview study with fathers present during the resuscitation of their baby at delivery. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Fetal and Neonatal Edition. 97, 6, 439-443.
  • Maxton F (2008) Parental Presence During Resuscitation on the PICU: The Parents’ Experience. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 17, 23, 3168-3176.
  • McGahey-Oakland P, Lieder H, Young, A et al (2007) Family experiences during resuscitation at a children’s hospital emergency department. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. 21, 4, 217-225.
  • O’Connor D, Green S, Higgins J (2011) Chapter 5: Defining the review question and developing criteria for including studies. Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews of Intervention. 
  • Sawyer A, Ayers S, Bertullies S et al (2015) Providing immediate neonatal care and resuscitation at birth beside the mother: parents’ views, a qualitative study. BMJ Open. 5, 9, e008495. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008495
  • Strasen J, Van Sell S. Sheriff S (2015) Family Presence during Resuscitation. Nursing Management. 46, 10, 46-50.
  • Tinsley C, Hill B, Shah J et al (2008) Experiences of families during cardiopulmonary resuscitation in a pediatric intensive care unit.  Pediatrics. 122, 4, 799-804.
  • Walsh D, Downe S (2005) Meta-synthesis method for qualitative research: a literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 50, 2, 204-211.

About the authors

Samantha Mather is a paediatric staff nurse at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, London, but at time of writing was a children’s nursing student, University of London. Jane Chudleigh is programme director and senior lecturer, City University of London. This article has been written on behalf of the RCN’s Research in Child Health community

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