Information on the process that is followed after a child has died
Generally, the process following a child’s sudden and unexpected death is similar across all four nations of the UK, although local professional teams may implement guidance slightly differently. At such a devastating time, the process can feel confusing and complicated, even intrusive or insensitive, but it is important. It is designed to ensure appropriate steps are taken to help you and your family understand why your child died. It also aims to prevent other children dying from the same cause in the future.
You may have already been given leaflets and may have contact with someone who is being helpful in guiding you through the process. If at any time you feel you would like more information, we would encourage you to call a professional involved, the local Coroner’s office or contact our charity. You are not alone.
This document was produced by NHS England in consultation with parents and charities, including SUDC UK. All newly registered families with SUDC UK will receive a printed copy of this guide through the post.
For more detailed official information on the role of a Coroner and inquests, please click here
For practical and emotional support for those attending Coroners’ courts please visit the Coroners’ Courts Support Service website or call them on 0300 111 2141. They are an independent and friendly source of information and support for families.
Please note, in Scotland a Procurator Fiscal investigation replaces the Coroner’s investigation. The Scottish Cot Death Trust has excellent information to help explain this.
Different terms used to describe an unexpected death
As you have contact with different professionals and navigate the process following the death of a child, it could be helpful to know that there are many different terms used in the UK to describe sudden deaths. Please find some terms which are used below.
Please be reassured that whatever term is used in your situation, SUDC UK supports ALL families affected by the sudden and unexpected death of a child with information, resources and help accessing bereavement support.
Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood describes the sudden and unexpected death of a child between 1 and 18 years of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation is conducted. SUDC UK advocates for always using this term in this situation. The charity believes this helps make things clear and consistent for both families and professionals, helps raise awareness and funding for SUDC research and supports better understanding of how often SUDC occurs. Please note that Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood was medically defined in 2005 and is appropriately listed as the term for this category of death in the 2018 Statutory Guidelines produced by NHS England.
Before an investigation is completed, the sudden death of a child is usually called Sudden Unexpected Death in Childhood. This is also abbreviated to SUDC (which can be a little confusing). Some professionals continue to use this term after the investigation is complete and the cause of death has been determined.
- If a child is under 24 months, some guidelines use the term Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) instead of SUDC. Therefore this may be listed as the cause of death.
- If the deceased is an older child or adult and/or there is relevant cardiac medical history, the term used may be Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes (SADS).
- If there is a medical history of epilepsy, the term used may be Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy.
- If the child was a baby under one year old, the term used will usually be Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or sometimes ‘cot death’ – a historical term that is generally no longer used by professionals. It may also be referred to as SUDI or another, more recently recommended acronym, Sudden Unexpected/Unexplained Infant Death (SUID).
- Unascertained is another legal term that may be used as an official cause of death.
- Final reports may also include additional information on suspected possible but uncertain contributing medical factors, such as infection, heart or neurological conditions.
All of these terms mean that there is sadly no clear explanation why a child has died. It is our mission to raise awareness that this tragedy occurs and fund research to prevent it in the future.
It is also important to remember that the term listed as ’cause of death’ is an opinion. The Coroner uses their judgement and the expertise of a team and/or court to provide that opinion. As with any opinions- there will be variability from expert to expert. These are some of the most difficult cases that these professionals face.
Please contact us if you’d like further information or support. We are here to help.
Additional SUDC UK bereavement resources
- Accessing Bereavement Support
- Sibling Resources
- Resources during and after pregnancy
- Family Screening
- Information on scientific research and family participation