Research fellow leads study of children coping with parental cancer

Emma Acosta

A research fellow in the School of Social Work is analyzing how children are affected by child-centered intervention programs designed specifically for those whose parents have cancer in the hopes of encouraging these initiatives.

Farya Phillips is helping evaluate the efficiency of local nonprofit Wonders & Worries, which offers free, six-week comprehensive and individualized counseling for children from the ages of two to 18. Phillips saw there was a need for more research on children with parents coping with cancer. There is evidence supporting programs help parents with cancer, but not much is known about programs that help the children.

“The research is going to bring out the needs of the population and the interventions that will work for them,” Phillips said. “I feel like it’s an underserved population that’s kind of forgotten about and that’s when I became really passionate about it.”

Phillips and Barbara Jones, co-directors of the Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice, developed the study — the first of its kind. Their purpose is to move forward the field of psychosocial oncology, which focuses on the psychological effects of a cancer diagnosis, by creating and finding interventions that can help.

Nursing honors junior Christy Goldberg said she understands the need for helping children cope with their parents’ cancer because of her own experience with her father’s cancer.

“I know there are children who don’t have the opportunity to talk with other kids about their parent’s cancer and I feel like that would be really hard,” Goldberg said. “I was really lucky and actually got to be very involved [with her dad’s treatment]. I was in 4th grade so having my brother, sister and cousins there to do ‘normal’ kid things was really helpful.”

Jennifer Currin-McCulloch, social work graduate student assisting Phillips, said she thinks Phillips is well prepared to make changes in the current child-based intervention programs.

“She really knows the literature [and] what’s going on, what services are available,” Currin-McCulloch said. “She’s really trying to change the world to make it better for kids when a parent or loved one is ill with cancer.”