Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Understanding the Health Care System

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Programs in communities and medical centers

Many different types of programs are available for children and families. Some of these are provided in the hospital and others are found in the community. Team social workers, psychologists, and nurses usually can help you find them. Some kinds of programs offered are:

Support groups

These may be for parents, siblings, or children with cancer. They may be only for certain groups of patients, such as teens or patients with a certain kind of cancer. Some are offered in hospitals and clinics, and others through organizations like the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or the American Childhood Cancer Organization.

School programs

Medical centers may have organized school programs, planned school re-entry programs, education programs for staff members at the child’s or sibling’s school, and contact with classroom teachers or teachers who teach homebound or hospitalized students. Some use volunteers for tutoring.

Patient and parent visitation programs

Where available, these programs help parents meet other parents with common factors such as children’s ages, diagnoses, or the area in which they live. There are also programs that help patients meet peers with cancer and other people to support them through this time.

Buddy programs

These programs use volunteers (sometimes university or medical students) to play with or befriend patients.

Summer camps

Many medical centers, communities, or groups like the American Cancer Society, sponsor summer camps for children with cancer and sometimes their siblings, too. The focus is on the fun aspects of the camping experience, rather than on having cancer.

Special events

Medical centers often develop special programs to meet fundraising, recreational, or educational needs of children with cancer and their families, such as conferences on certain diagnoses, parent weekends, picnics, and survivors’ days.

Wish fulfillment organizations

Many agencies are set up to grant the wishes of seriously ill children, including cancer patients. Some accept parental referral, but most ask for referrals from a doctor or other team member.

Ronald McDonald Houses

These houses originally were created to be a home away from home for children with cancer and their families. Now they often serve children with other serious illnesses, too. They give parents and children who are outpatients a place to get away and relax, offer another option besides staying in the hospital, and have low or no-cost housing for families during treatment. They also help provide parent-to-parent connections and support.


Last Medical Review: 07/02/2012
Last Revised: 07/02/2012