Palliative care services for paediatrics

Nurses will sometimes have to care for children who are dying. Palliative care in children is different to adult palliative care because of their age and different family situation.

Many children will have chronic life-limiting illnesses such as neurodegenerative illness or cystic fibrosis. Many of these children do not have cancer.

In countries like Australia and the United Kingdom the rate of childhood deaths is much lower than adults. Current estimates in Australia for children who may require palliative care vary between 9 and 14 thousand. [1] This means that the need to access paediatric palliative care services is relatively small and, in some geographical locations, infrequent. This infrequent use of services makes a difficult path for the families who need care when even experienced health care providers are novices to paediatric palliative care.

Referral is usually to the specialist paediatric palliative care service, not to adult palliative care services. Children are cared for up to the age of 18, and very often beyond this. Their care will sometimes be shared with hospices and generic palliative care services. Most parents and family members would choose to care for their sick child until the end if provided with support.

Neonatal nursing is a specialised area of care. 'Neonatal' is described as pertaining to the newborn period which, by convention, is the first four weeks after birth. In Australia two neonatal deaths occur each day, and only some of these will be considered for palliative care. [2]


  1. Background Report to the Paediatric Addendum to the Palliative Care Service Development Guidelines (1.09MB pdf). East Melbourne, VIC: Apex Consulting for Palliative Care Australia; 2018 Dec.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Stillbirths and neonatal deaths in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: AIHW; 2020 [cited 2021 Aug 27].

Last updated 20 August 2021