The LGFA commissioned an evaluation report for CLIMB® in 2017 and please see the summary report below or alternatively download the full report by clicking here


Children of Parents with Cancer: An evaluation of CLIMB®

Research Team: Dr Carla O’Neill, Dr Catherine S. O’Neill & Dr Cherith Semple





Over the past three decades there has been a marked increase in the prevalence of cancer among younger age groups, many of whom are parenting children. In Ireland it is estimated that 15% of people with cancer are aged between 20-50 years (National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI, 2017).  Research has indicated that when a parent is diagnosed with cancer they face additional fears and anxieties as they attempt to simultaneously manage their role as parent, with their illness (Rauch & Moore, 2010, Semple & McCance, 2010, O’Neill et al, 2016). Creating a supportive environment where children can feel comfortable expressing positive or negative emotions is essential at this time. Many parents, however, are understandably overwhelmed by the diagnosis and treatment regimes.  Some require professional support and a structured intervention to assist them in communicating the illness process to their children.


One such intervention which is delivered internationally is Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery CLIMB®, which was developed in the United States (U.S.) by The Children’s Treehouse Foundation.  In 2015 CLIMB4CLARE a fundraising initiative supported by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) initiated the introduction of the programme in the Republic of Ireland by offering training to healthcare professionals.  It is delivered in over 35 locations countrywide.  An explorative study was conducted in 2016/2017 by the research team to evaluate the programme which was funded by CLIMB4CLARE and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.




Overall the findings from the study evidenced that attending the CLIMB® programme was a positive step for all of the children as it gave them a chance to express their worries and meet other children in a similar situation which appeared to have a reassuring effect as they bonded as a community.   The parents were aware of this also and expressed how the programme was a great psychological support to the children and to them as parents, as they felt that the programme removed some of the burden of responsibility of talking about the diagnosis to the children.  The tools the children learned to use on the programme were life skills that could be applicable in any serious life event. Furthermore, these could be, and were used by other members of the family.

The findings also evidenced that most of the children were better able to overtly express their emotions and had more open communication with their parents following the completion of the programme.  They learnt adoptive strategies and ways to manage their feelings. The use of arts and crafts to facilitate the conversation and discussion with the children appeared to give them a certain level of comfort with the diagnostic language. The important change was that the children now had words to articulate what was happening at home and they were now part of the illness conversation.

While many of the parents did not disclose the diagnosis to the children at an early stage, the children did sense a change in the home environment and intuited this change through the altered domestic routines. CLIMB® provided parents with structured support which helped them communicate more openly with their children, which they acknowledged as crucial at such a challenging time.  The findings from the facilitators supported those of the children and parents in that the programme supported the overall family unit and created a safe space within which to talk about the illness.




Creating spaces to talk about cancer reduces mistrust and tension between parents and children, when parental cancer occurs.  Attending CLIMB® can help young children and parents to deal with cancer in a more open and transparent manner which hopefully minimizes future psychological and social problems. It is hoped that the findings from this study will be integrated into the development of the proposed model of psycho-oncology and psychosocial support services outlined in the National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026 (Department of Health) that acknowledges a multi-disciplinary approach in the hospital and the community through cancer support centres.





Department of Health. 2017. National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026. Dublin: Department of Health


National Cancer Registry Ireland.  2017. Incidence Statistics. Available from: Accessed June 2017.


O’Neill, C. McCaughan, E. Semple C.J. & Ryan, A. 2016. Fathers’ experiences of living with cancer: a phenomenological study. European Journal of Cancer Care, E-publication ahead of print 22 March 2016. DOI: 10.1111/ecc.12492


Rauch, P.K. and Moore, C. 2010. A Population-Based Estimate of Cancer Survivors Residing with Minor Children. Cancer, 116 (18), 4218-4220.


Semple, C.J. and McCance, T. 2010. Experience of parents with head and neck cancer who are caring for young children. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 66 (6), 1280-1290.

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