Background: Camping programs for children with chronic diseases are designed for specific needs, but rigorous evaluation of their impact is largely lacking. The biggest camp for children with cancer and their families provided an opportunity to conduct such an investigation.
Methods: The study sample consisted of 76 attendee and 86 non-attendee families. Parents and children completed a series of validated questionnaires addressing family functioning (the primary effect measure); health-related quality of life (HRQL) of the patients; the children's behavior and relationships; parental behavior, mood and social support; parental nurturance, rejection and monitoring (from the perspective of the children); and a health and social service utilization inventory.
Results: The most common diagnoses in the attendee and nonattendee groups were acute lymphoblastic leukemia and central nervous system tumors, respectively. A higher proportion of attendees were receiving active treatment (26.7% vs. 5.8%), almost all for relapsed disease. Parent attendees reported significantly better family function and social support, and parenting skills and coping, than nonattendee parents. The parental proxy assessments of the children's overall HRQL revealed significantly better scores for the attendees, although there was a greater burden of pain among attendees and of cognitive morbidity among nonattendees. Costs related to health care and social services were substantially greater in the attendee families.
Conclusions: Children with cancer cannot be randomized not to attend camp. So the results of this study cannot resolve the conundrum—do better-adapted families attend a camp designed to meet the special needs of their children, or does attendance materially improve the health and welfare of families of children with cancer? However, the very proliferation of such camps is indicative of a need being met and greater efforts should be made to promote the camping experience, and to encourage such children and their families to participate.