The National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) has awarded a $150,000 grant to Dr. Roberta Rehm, an assistant professor at the UNM College of Nursing. The grant will fund a study about how families, schools and medical services coordinate efforts to make it possible for children who are medically fragile or dependent on technology to attend school. The two-year grant is funded by the NINR, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

The study entitled, "Children with Technical Dependence: Family and School Care," will begin on May 15 and will consist of interviews and observations. Medically fragile or technology-dependant children need skilled, on-going care from their families and health care providers. The children may have long-term chronic illness such as cystic fibrosis, severe cerebral palsy, respiratory problems, and may require technological assistance such as feeding or breathing tubes.

Rehm will begin the study this summer by interviewing about 25 children ages 5 to 12, their parents, teachers and school nurses. The second part of the study will take place during the school year where she will observe how the children interact with other children, their teachers and caretakers in the classroom, playground and lunch room. From the observations, Rehm hopes to learn who the children are interacting with, the specific nature of their interactions, and the conditions in which the interaction is taking place.

"In the past, these children were often hospitalized, but with improved medical technology and support service, they are living longer and becoming more completely integrated in society," Rehm said. "This study will help us learn how families and schools work together in these extraordinary circumstances, so that we can plan policies and services to help the children and their families to benefit fully from school life."

In a past study, Rehm concluded that while parents of medically fragile children were protective and worried about risk of infection and their children being teased or isolated, the opportunity to attend school gives them a chance to learn academic and life skills and helps the family to develop a normal routine.
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