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When a child dies

The death of a child is truly devastating and it can be difficult to see a future past the grief. We hope that this section of our website helps you in terms of some of the practical arrangements that you will need to take as well as to ensure you receive the support you need.

You may also find it helpful to download our factsheet on this topic here.

Help and support

There are a number of resources, charities and support groups available to help you following the death of a child, many of which offered tailored support, such as for stillbirth, infant loss, suicide or cancer.

If you follow this link, you will see a list of the specialist organisations that can assist you at this difficult time.

Practical steps

Registering a death

One of the first things you will need to do is speak with the hospital or the GP to obtain the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. You may also need to contact the Coroner’s office in certain circumstances. For all children who have died before they reach 18, including for babies who are stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy, a parent will need to register the death. You can do this either online or at your local Register Office. This section of the government’s websites provides information on how to find your local Register Officer and if you can use the ‘Tell Us Once’ service to register the death online.

Memorials and funerals

When planning a funeral, it can feel like there is a lot of pressure on you and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You might feel an expectation that the funeral should take place as soon as possible. Try not to let yourself be rushed by others. There is no a strict timeframe that you need to stick to. Take your time to work out how you want to say goodbye.

There is no legal requirement to use the services of a funeral director but if you choose to use one, we recommend that you choose a funeral director registered with the National Association of Funeral Directors.

You will have to choose whether to have a burial or cremation. You may wish to consider factors such as whether you wish to have the ashes to keep or to scatter in a special place, or whether you want a burial place to visit, or there may be more practical considerations such as cost and logistics. Cremations and natural burials tend to be more affordable than a traditional burial.

Paying for a funeral

The government has a special fund to financially support all parents of a child who has died under the age of 18 and so, no matter your income, you will not have to pay for a burial or cremation. Other funeral expenses, such as a coffin or casket may also be paid for by the government. This fund is accessed either by your funeral director (if you are using one) or you can make a claim online within six months using the government website.

Letting organisations know

There are a number of organisations that will need to be informed of the death:

  • Any school, day centre, nursery or care group they attended
  • Their GP, dentist and other health professionals
  • The Child Benefit Office as they will need to re-assess child benefit and child tax credit
  • Passport Agency
  • Banks and building societies if they had a current or savings account.

In the case of older children, there may be other considerations such as:

  • Cancelling any memberships they had to sports clubs or gyms
  • Notifying their mobile phone provider and cancelling related subscriptions such as Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music etc
  • Notifying the DVLA if they held a driving license
  • You may also wish to consider closing a child’s social media account if they had one. Some sites offer the option to memorialise the account rather than shutting it down fully.

Taking time away from work

From April 2020, a new law means that parents of a child under 18 or a child who has been stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy will have a legal right to two weeks’ paid leave from work.

If you are the parent of a baby who died either before or during birth, then you are entitled to the same maternity leave that you would otherwise have had. This could also include maternity pay or maternity allowance depending on your employment.

Child Death Overview Panels

A few weeks or even months after a child has died, you may be contacted by your local authority’s Child Death Overview Panel (CDOP). This is a group that is convened in each local authority to review the deaths of every child in their area to try and understand what has happened and whether any lessons can be learned. The meetings are held in private so you will not be able to attend, but you may be requested to provide information or highlight any concerns that you have so that they can be raised during their meeting.

The inquest process

A coroner will call an inquest to determine the cause of death of a baby or child if this is not apparent from the medical history or the post mortem, or if there are any unanswered questions surrounding the circumstances of the death. If you are concerned about how your child died then you should report this to your local coroner as soon as possible as they may then decide to hold an inquest.

An inquest can be a crucial investigation to ascertain the circumstances of someone’s death but can be a daunting prospect, particularly whilst grieving for your child. We recommend seeking legal advice at an early stage if you are notified of an inquest, or if you have any concerns about the circumstances of your child’s death and believe an inquest should be called. Sometimes it is important that particular steps are taken very quickly following the death and so we would urge you to speak to someone as soon as possible, as this can have a bearing on the evidence which is obtained.

You can find the Coroner for your area here.

You can find out more about inquests by downloading our factsheet here or by visiting our specialist web page.

Concerns about the circumstances of a child’s death

Sadly sometimes when a child dies it may have been a result of someone else’s negligence, for example through poor medical care, a road traffic incident or another type of accident.

A claim for compensation can be brought when a child has died as a result of negligence. A settlement can compensate you for any financial losses you have suffered, such as for funeral expenses, for loss of earnings suffered for time off work or for counselling treatment you require as a result of what has happened, and can be a way of investigating the events leading up to the death and seeking answers to any questions you have.

Generally, you can bring a clinical negligence claim within three years from the date of death but this deadline is sometimes as short as one year in some cases so do get in touch with a solicitor as soon as possible if you have concerns about the circumstances of death or the quality of care provided to your child.

Making a complaint after losing a baby

For many parents dealing with the grief of losing a baby, it may seem hard to contemplate making a complaint. The way each parent will deal with his or her grief and experience will vary greatly and there is no right or wrong path to take. It is important to bear in mind that there is support available as noted above.

Some parents may want to make a complaint about the treatment their baby received in order to obtain some answers as to what went wrong and the below is intended to provide parents with more information about processes available to them and what to expect.

Debrief meetings – what to expect and what to consider

Many maternity units now offer what is called a “debrief meeting” after a birth with the clinicians involved in your care, alongside a senior midwife or consultant.

The purpose of the debrief meeting is to allow you to express your concerns about the birth and what you felt went wrong, and to hear the response of the NHS staff who were responsible for caring for you and your baby during that time. This may not bring you full resolution but should help you to feel that your concerns and feelings about the birth have been listened to and heard.

The advice we have heard from our clients about these meetings includes:

  • ask for a copy set of your maternity records (these should be provided for free) so you can review your records and refresh your memory;
  • write down your story, feelings and questions in advance so you don’t forget to express and ask on the day;
  • bring a friend or loved one to the meeting with you for support and to write down notes for you;
  • ask the hospital for a letter after the meeting which summarises what was discussed and the conclusions reached.

All medical staff are now subject to a legal Duty of Candour. This means that they must be open and honest with you when explaining what happened during the birth, and should apologise if there was a mistake.

Making a formal complaint

You may or may not wish to have a debrief meeting with the medical staff. Whether you do or don’t is a personal decision and doesn’t preclude you from making a formal written complaint to the Hospital Trust involved in the birth, which is a separate process.

You can engage the services of the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) in making a complaint. Please see our guide on making complaints for more detailed information on how to do this, however the main advice is to set out a brief, clear chronology of what happened followed by a clear list of complaints you have. If you send in a well-written complaint, you are likely to receive a better quality of written reply.

Many hospitals stopped accepting complaints or requests for debrief meetings during the peak period of the Covid-19 pandemic; however this system should now have re-opened in most hospital Trusts.

Undertaking a debrief or complaint may seem daunting at first, particularly when dealing with the loss of a baby and the very raw emotions of that loss. It is therefore important to ensure you are receiving appropriate support from your GP and the midwifery team. Help is also available from charities such as those listed here.