Aim. This paper is a report of a study into how children and young people constructed their experiences of visiting a critically ill family member in an intensive care unit.
Background. Previous intensive care research has focused almost exclusively on adult family members, and so far children and young people have been excluded from family studies in this area. Consequently, very little is known about children’s and young people’s needs or their understanding when visiting an adult intensive care unit.
Method. Between 2002 and 2005, nine family interviews (12 adults and 12 children) were conducted. A constructivist grounded theory approach was employed in gathering and analysing data.
Findings. The way in which children and young people discussed their intensive care visiting experiences suggest two different levels of understanding. Children tended to speak about intensive care on a concrete level, focusing on the environment (intensive care unit as environment). Young people, in contrast, understood their visiting experiences on an abstract level, focusing on the function of intensive care (intensive care unit as function).
Conclusion. A structured and age-appropriate approach to support children visiting an adult intensive care unit still needs to be developed. It is time for nurses to reflect on current practice, challenge beliefs and attitudes towards child visitation. Crucially, nurses need education in listening skills and understanding children and young people’s needs when an adult family member is in an intensive care unit. Further research is needed to develop appropriate support interventions and to investigate the importance and effects of intensive care unit visiting on children and young people.