Family-Centered Care in Pediatrics: 5 Nursing Principles

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A pediatric nurse uses a stethoscope on a young patient who is sitting on their mother’s lap.Health care practitioners promote patient satisfaction and confidence by maintaining familial bonds during pediatric treatment with a value system known as family-centered care. Providers and organizations adopting this philosophy promote the emotional, physical, and psychological health of children during treatment. Nurses practice the method as a means to build a rapport that facilitates fulfillment of the needs of all stakeholders.

This once-prohibited practice now has increased acceptance, bolstered by highly compelling empirical evidence. Using this approach, nursing professionals create an environment that recognizes parents as critical information sources and part of the caregiving team. While many practitioners have accepted family-centered care in pediatrics as an effective value system, many more have yet to incorporate it into their practice.

Pediatric nurse practitioners who adopt family-centered care techniques recognize how important it is to include family members in the evaluation, planning, and delivery of treatments, and to incorporate that ideology into assessments, facility design, policies, programs, and routine interactions. These care providers understand the important role that family members play in children’s wellness. This was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the implementation of strict visitation rules severely disrupted health care staff’s ability to provide family-centered care to patients.

Pediatric care providers who follow family-centered service principles treat each child as an individual and support family values and strengths to promote positive patient outcomes. These professionals also engage families in a way that supports the child’s emotional development and reassures family members that they are an important part of their child’s treatment.

The facts and views presented by the patient and their family members are important influences in clinical decision-making. Confident and informed family members reinforce children’s strength and courage. Those pursuing an advanced nursing education, and particularly those interested in a pediatric nursing career, should understand the concept of family-centered care and how it can contribute to optimal patient care.

What Is Family-Centered Care?

Family-centered care takes a holistic approach to patient care. In this care delivery method, the health care professional, the patient, and the patient’s family establish a partnership that becomes the foundation for the planning, delivery, and assessment of the patient’s care. This partnership allows a family-driven perspective to influence the patient’s care, as it ensures that health care professionals acknowledge the family’s central function in caregiving and advocacy. It can be applied across numerous health care settings and all levels of care, although it is particularly advantageous when the patient is a child.

Properly delivered family-centered care can foster a collaborative relationship between the health care professional and the patient. This relationship can lead to a patient’s family members developing a better understanding of the rationale behind certain care delivery strategies. It can also allow health care professionals to develop greater respect for a family’s cultural values and traditions.

The holistic, collaborative nature of family-centered care can yield a wide range of benefits. These include better health care provider satisfaction, more efficient resource allocation, improved care delivery, and a greater potential for improved patient outcomes.

5 Nursing Principles for Family-Centered Care in Pediatrics

Developing effective family-centered care strategies is a layered process consisting of five essential family-centered care principles. Each principle is designed to cultivate trust and collaboration among the health care provider, the patient, and the patient’s family. This trust is central to realizing the benefits of family-centered care.

1. Open Communication with Family Members

Open communication in pediatric and neonatal wards leads to improved patient and familial satisfaction. These outcomes improve patient safety and stakeholder candidness. When clinical errors occur, a relationship built with open communication plays a critical role in how stakeholders perceive the event.

Family-centered pediatric practitioners share information and encourage patient participation during treatment while maintaining privacy rights, especially among children with disabilities, and respecting children’s ability to make appropriate decisions. When conducting research, family-centered pediatricians defer to the views of patients and their family members on project participation and information sharing. Communication also improves performance among medical personnel.

2. Recognizing Familial Importance

Patient- and family-centered care started to emerge in the 1950s. Family-centered care in pediatrics is particularly relevant for families raising children with special needs, as well as low-income, minority, and uninsured families.

The doctrine reduces incurred costs and improves the experience realized by patients and family members. By keeping family members present during treatment, pediatricians decrease family members’ apprehension and create a supportive setting for them, while encouraging patient interaction and promoting a healing environment.

3. Family and Organizational Collaboration

At family-centered practices, family members serve as the patient’s advisers, committee, and task force for promoting the best possible treatment outcome. A supportive environment encourages family members to participate in value-added groups, such as peer networks, quality improvement initiatives, and safety committees.

Family-centered value adoption starts at the executive level with appropriate guidance and resource allocation and then proliferates throughout the organization.

In the context of family-centered care, collaboration encompasses complementary patient engagement or, if necessary, a guiding voice that encourages patient and family participation in the treatment process. New mothers commonly seek this kind of professional interaction.

Collaboration streamlines treatment and produces optimal health experiences. By combining their assets, beliefs, and capabilities, family members and care providers can make decisions that best serve the needs of the patient.

4. Enabling Family Members to Support Treatment

Professional perceptions and attitudes can determine the effectiveness of family-centered care. To deploy the philosophy successfully, pediatric nurses must relinquish some, but not all, control to family members. To facilitate this, nurses must guide family members in caring for, protecting, and making decisions for pediatric patients.

While most nurses are aware of the family-centered practice concept, entry-level nursing staff may have difficulty relinquishing partial control to family members. However, experienced nurses typically feel more at ease with the idea, which empowers parents and guardians by enhancing their ability to play an active role in their child’s treatment.

5. Encouraging Cultural Literacy

Cultural identities should be taken into account in planning and delivering treatment. Respect for cultural differences represents a primary tenet in family-centered pediatric care. Staff members who belong to various cultures can help their peers understand different cultural needs.

Each family unit also shares distinct cultural beliefs. Children learn their characteristics, heritage, and spirituality from their family members. Pediatric practitioners must identify and learn to relate to people from other cultures to understand the factors that contribute to patient health.

Goals and Principles of Pediatric Nursing

Family-centered care complements the principles of pediatric nursing, and adopting this approach can enhance a pediatric nurse’s care delivery strategies. These principles include:

  • Building Relationships — A visit to the doctor’s office can be intimidating for children. By developing a trusted relationship with a child and the child’s family, a pediatric nurse can provide a much-needed sense of security for both the patient and their family.
  • Showing Empathy — An empathetic approach can help a patient and their family understand that they are being cared for properly. This can make it easier for the nurse to provide comfort to the patient and their family members during critical or vulnerable times.
  • Knowledge of Childhood Development — Pediatric nurses must be mindful of the various changes a child may be going through as they grow. These changes can correlate with other aspects of their development, such as their nutritional needs.
  • Confidentiality — Adhering to strict patient confidentiality is a core ethical practice in pediatric nursing, allowing nurses to act in the best interests of the patient and their family.

Family-Centered Care Examples

Effective family-centered care in pediatrics requires trust between the provider, the patient, and the patient’s family. This trust can be developed through practices that may seem small but coalesce into something big. Some examples of family-centered care practices that can help establish trust include the following:

  • Taking the time to learn and use the names of a patient’s family members
  • Showing a willingness to discuss the cultural traditions and backgrounds of the patient and their family
  • Providing different ways to share key patient information, like diagrams or written summaries, to foster a sense of transparency and collaboration

Additionally, care providers can seek opportunities for parents or guardians to safely and ethically participate in their child’s care in a way that matches their comfort level.

Learn More About Family-Centered Care in Pediatrics

Pediatrics requires a delicate balance between clinical care and interpersonal connection. The medically sound diagnosis and treatment of patients is key, but making sure the patient’s family is informed and at ease in the process is also critical. By deploying effective family-centered care strategies, pediatric nurse practitioners can cultivate a strong sense of trust that extends to patients and families alike. This can help pediatric nurses provide the best care possible.

Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing program is designed to help nurses cultivate the expertise needed to deploy positive family-centered care strategies. Coursework in the program and its pediatric nurse practitioner specialization prepares nurses to deliver collaborative, respectful care that can lead to a strong sense of trust, respect, and understanding between patients and providers. Learn how we can help you build impactful relationships that can lead to better care. 

Recommended Readings

Career Outlook: Family Nurse Practitioner

How Nurse Practitioners Improve Access to Healthcare

Pediatric Nurse Job Description: Roles and Responsibilities


Arizona Department of Economic Security, “Cultural Competency & Family Centered Care/Language Access Plan”

Indeed, “Pediatric Nurse Skills: Definition and Examples”

Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, Patient- and Family-Centered Care

Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, Patient- and Family-Centered Care Defined

Journal of Pediatric Nursing, “Disruption of Patient and Family Centered Care Through the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Maternal and Child Health Journal, “Family-Centered Care: Current Applications and Future Directions in Pediatric Health Care”

Pacer Center, What Is Family-Centered Care?

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Person- and Family-Centered Care and Peer Support

UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Patient & Family Centered Care