Aim: To identify common factors in Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) where a child has died of a medical cause. Design: Qualitative thematic analysis.
Background: SCRs take place when neglect or abuse results in children dying or being seriously harmed. Known key factors within SCRs include parental substance misuse, mental health problems, and domestic abuse. To date there has been no investigation of children who die of a medical cause where there are concerns about child maltreatment.
Data sources: A list of SCRs relating to deaths through medical causes was provided from previous coded studies and accessed from the NSPCC National Case Review Repository. Twenty-three SCRs with a medical cause of death from 1st April 2009-31st March 2017 were sourced.
Results: Twenty children died of an acute condition and 12 of a chronic condition; 20 of the deaths were unexpected and maltreatment contributed to the deaths of 18 children. Most children were either under one or over 16 at time of death. Many parents were caring for a child with additional vulnerabilities including behavioural issues (6/23), learning difficulties (6/23), mental health issues (5/23) or a chronic medical condition (12/23). Common parental experiences included: domestic violence/abuse (13/23), drug/alcohol misuse (10/23), mental ill health or struggling to cope (7/23), criminal history (11/23), and caring for another vulnerable individual (8/23). Most children lived in a chaotic household characterised by missed medical appointments (18/23), poor school attendance (11/23), poor physical home environment (7/23) and disguised compliance (12/23). All 23 SCRs reported elements of abusive or neglectful parenting. In most there was evidence of cumulative harm, where multiple factors contributed to their premature death. At the time of death 11 children were receiving social care support.
Conclusion: While the underlying medical cause of the child’s death was often incurable, the maltreatment that often exacerbated the medical issue could have been prevented.