Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 July 2018
All hospital staff were very respectful of our wishes and explained everything well that they needed to do. We were given plenty of time and privacy with all our family after the baby died.(Bereaved parent)
I was sat in the back of the police car and no-one spoke to me, I always remember the silence, it was awful, the silence was so bad.(Bereaved parent)
When a child dies suddenly and unexpectedly, we, as professionals, have a wide range of duties and obligations that must be fulfilled. Statutory requirements may place constraints on what we can do, when we need to do it, and how we can go about it. At the heart of it all, however, there remains a bereaved family, for whom the worst thing imaginable has just happened. As one bereaved mother put it: “Words may hurt me or make me angry, but I have lost my child, so don't flatter yourself — nothing that you say will actually make the situation worse”.
Nevertheless, as the quotes at the start of this chapter highlight, parents’ experiences following the death of their child vary enormously, and the way we respond to them can make a considerable difference. The way we respond can make a difference also to the outcome of an investigation. Identifying an unusual medical cause of death, or uncovering the circumstances of a tragic accident or a case of intentional filicide is more likely with a thorough, systematic investigation, conducted with sensitivity and respect, than with one carried out carelessly or in a haphazard or aggressive manner.
In most jurisdictions, the sudden unexpected death of an infant or child requires the case to be referred to a coroner, medical examiner, or procurator fiscal. In England, for example, a coroner is obliged to conduct an investigation into violent or unnatural deaths, deaths where the cause is unknown, and deaths which occur in custody or otherwise in state detention (1). Coroner's officers, or police officers acting on behalf of the coroner, will need to carry out an investigation into the causes and circumstances of the death.