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Warwick researchers lead first study in England looking at SUDI

A team from the Division of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Warwick Medical School has led the first study in England looking at official investigations of unexpected infant deaths. The team aimed to develop an in-depth understanding of the circumstances around sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) cases that were subject to serious case review.

In England and Wales, there are between 300 to 400 reported cases annually of SUDI – where an infant suddenly and unexpectedly dies, when death had not been a reasonable possibility in the 48 hours prior. In approximately two-thirds of SUDI cases, the cause of death remains unexplained.

The team aimed to develop an in-depth understanding of the circumstances around sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) cases that were subject to serious case review

The paper examined 27 serious case reviews in England from April 2011 to March 2014. Serious case reviews are conducted to improve how professionals and agencies work, both individually and together, to protect and promote child welfare – they are not enquiries into how a child died or who was responsible, as this is for police and coroners to determine.

The research team accessed 27 out of 30 such reviews held during the time period, finding that:

  • In 18 cases, parents did not engage with professionals
  • In 18 families there were members suffering from alcohol or drug dependency
  • In 14 cases, parents suffered mental health problems
  • In 13 cases, parents had criminal records
  • In 9 cases there had been domestic abuse

Serious case reviews are conducted to improve how professionals and agencies work, both individually and together, to protect and promote child welfare

Further, 18 infants had died in highly hazardous sleep environments with 16 involving co-sleeping and 13 with parents who were drunk or had taken drugs. Longstanding child neglect was prevalent in 15 of the cases.

This study highlights the importance of safer sleep advice, particularly for families needing extra support. Future research should, therefore, focus on how to effectively support and engage with vulnerable parents in order to deliver safe sleep messages. Ultimately, doing so could save hundreds of babies’ lives.

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