BACKGROUND: Data about pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) family conferences (FCs) are needed to enhance our understanding of the role of FCs in patient care and build a foundation for future research on PICU communication and decision making. OBJECTIVE: The study's objective was to describe the use and content of PICU FCs. DESIGN: The study design was a prospective chart review comparing patients who had conferences with those who did not, and a sub-analysis of patients with chronic care conditions (CCCs). SETTING/SUBJECTS: The study setting was an academic PICU from January 2011 through June 2011. MEASUREMENTS: Medical events under consideration were placement of tracheostomy or gastrostomy tube; initiation of chronic ventilation; palliative care involvement; use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, continuous renal replacement, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation; care limitation orders; death; length of stay; and discharge to a new environment. RESULTS: From 661 admissions, we identified 74 conferences involving 49 patients. Sixty-four conferences (86%) were held about 40 patients with CCCs. Having a conference was associated with (p<0.05): length of PICU admission; palliative care involvement; initiation of chronic ventilation; extracorporeal membrane oxygenation; cardiopulmonary resuscitation; death; discharge to a new environment; and care limitation orders. Twenty-nine percent of patients who had a new tracheostomy or gastrostomy tube placed had a conference. We identified two categories of discussion topics: information exchange and future management. CONCLUSIONS: Most identified FCs involved complex patients or patients who faced decisions affecting the child's quality of life or dying. For many patients who faced life changing decisions we did not identify a FC. Further research is needed to understand how to best utilize FCs and less formal conversations.