Understanding parental concerns related to their child's development and factors influencing their decisions to seek help from health care professionals: Results of a qualitative study
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BACKGROUND: Early identification of children at risk of developmental delay is crucial to promote healthy development. Assessing parental concerns about development is often part of identification processes. However, we currently do not understand well how and why parents become concerned and how and why they access early identification and intervention services. The purpose of this study was to explore parental perceptions about their child's development and the factors influencing their reported professional help-seeking behaviours. METHODS: This exploratory study was part of a larger study describing child development in children aged 2-5 in a small Canadian city. We conducted semistructured interviews with 16 parents whose children were at risk of developmental delay to examine their perceptions of their child's development, their use of community services promoting development, and their recommendations to optimize those services. RESULTS: Four themes were identified: (a) Vision of child development influencing help-seeking behaviours: Natural or Supported?, (b) Internal and external sources contributing to parents' level of developmental concern, (c) Using internal resources and struggling to access external resources, and (d) Satisfaction with services accessed and recommendations to access more support. Parents' vision of child development along with sources of parental concern appeared to influence the level of concern, enhancing our understanding of how parents become concerned. The level of concern and parents' knowledge and perceived access to resources seemed to influence their decision whether or not to consult health care professionals. Parents provided many suggestions to improve services to promote child development and support families. DISCUSSION: Results highlight the importance of supporting parents in recognizing if their child is at risk of delay and increasing awareness of available resources. It appears particularly important to ensure that health care professionals and community-based support services are accessible to provide parents with the support they need, especially when they have concerns.