Accessibility statement

Bereavement support for parents of a child who has died: A systematic review

Last year in the UK a total of 3,501 deaths occurred in children under the age of five. In 2014, the number of deaths in children aged from 0 to 19 years old was 4,655, an average of nearly 13 children every day. Despite the known effects of child mortality on a parents’ physical and psychological wellbeing, there is little consensus as to what, if any, interventions are best suited to helping parents in their grief. The consequence of this is a dearth of evidence based guidance for those working in bereavement services. During our 2017 research prioritisation exercise, this lack of guidance was highlighted by staff at Martin House as one of the major barriers to them carrying out their work. It is therefore imperative that a better understanding of the current evidence regarding bereavement support is developed. This research study will draw together the evidence of both the effectiveness of bereavement support interventions for the parents of children who have died and of their experiences of receiving these interventions, alongside aspects of current treatment practices that are beneficial to parents in their grief.

Only eight studies have been published since 1980 which have aimed to assess the effectiveness of bereavement support interventions for parents. Most of these were from the US and focussed on deaths around the time of birth or the first month of life.   These studies all evaluated different interventions using different and often lots of, outcome measures. Despite measuring lots of different outcomes only 3 studies showed any positive benefit. We had concerns over the quality of reporting and methods of these studies which means that we cannot draw clear conclusions. Future research should clearly identify the important outcomes for parents and use appropriate research methods.


Start Date: November 2017
End Date: November 2018 - COMPLETED





Published Papers

Bereavement support effectiveness for parents of infants and children: a systematic review.  Tom Ainscough, Lorna Fraser, Joanna Taylor, Bryony Beresford & Alison Booth.  BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care. 2019 Oct 3. pii: bmjspcare-2019-001823. doi: 10.1136/bmjspcare-2019-001823