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What to do when a child dies

There is no right or wrong time to call

We know no one wants to be asking ‘what to do when a child dies’, it’s an awful position to be in. That’s why firstly, we just want to say, please don’t wait to call us. Arrangements can be made before as well as immediately after a death and finalised later. There’s no right or wrong time. We are here to offer guidance and take away worry or doubt at any point. We are dedicated to the highest levels of compassionate care and will look after you and your child with the utmost respect and dignity. The funeral you want to have for your child is entirely up to you and we will do our best to realise your every wish in saying goodbye.

If your child is under 12 months old or pre-term

First steps when a child dies

Step 1

Looking after your child

The first thing you’ll probably want to know is where will your child go and who is caring for them. We realise how important having your child at home with you may be – even for a time. Or we can care for them in our funeral home. We will support you whatever your preference.

Sometimes there can be delays, particularly where the death was sudden or unexplained. In this situation your child may need to stay in, or be taken to, hospital until the medical cause of death has been
confirmed. However, you don’t need to wait for medical certification to make plans; you can make arrangements whenever you feel ready.

Step 2

Spending time with your child

There’s also no right or wrong when it comes to spending time with your child. Parents frequently tell us it helps with the grieving process. For some, it provides a sense of peace, closure and a chance to say goodbye gently.

If you would like to spend time with your child we can arrange this in your home or our funeral home. This is often a very special time and you may wish to read a book, play particular music, bring a favourite toy, sports kit, jewellery, photos, drawings, cards or letters, which you may want to leave with your child.

Step 3

Dressing your child

Despite the loss, you are still able to care for and make your child comfortable. This may include providing clothes, blankets, toys, jewellery or other familiar items that have meaning. For some this may mean a school uniform, others a sports kit or favourite outfit. Our experienced team will do whatever is required to make your child comfortable.

Step 4

Keepsakes

You may wish to leave personal items with your child such as a toy, photographs or other keepsake. If you choose to have a cremation, certain items cannot be cremated and we would return these to you before the funeral. Many hospitals provide keepsake items as part of their support to you.

Where possible, we can arrange prints of your child’s hand or foot or a tiny lock of hair for you to keep.

It’s so important that you feel able to ask us anything and we encourage questions, no matter what. Your child’s funeral is unique and you can personalise it in your own special way.

As part of our service we offer you a little keepsake bear. Made by hand and in pairs, one small teddy can be placed with your child in the coffin, if you wish, and the other is for you to keep.

Step 5

Registration

Registration is the formal process required. It is necessary to have done this in order to finalise the funeral arrangements which may have already started. You can contact us at any time you feel ready. The death
certificate will be issued by your GP or hospital doctor and we can advise and help you with registration.

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Step 6

Arrange the funeral

Even at this early stage, you may feel the pressure of expectations. The loss of a child is so intensely personal you must feel free to choose what is right for you. For some, this will mean embracing a large public funeral whilst, for others, a more private, family led, informal event feels more appropriate. We are here to guide you if this is a difficult decision.

The next key decision is burial or cremation, so we’ve set out the key considerations of each.

Step 7

Choice of burial or cremation

If cremation is your preferred option, a very likely consideration will be your child’s ashes. Ashes include everything remaining after the cremation process; your child, their coffin and any clothing or keepsakes that were cremated. Ashes can be significant: you can keep them close to you, bury or scatter them at any time, now or in the future – there are different options and you can have the space and time to consider what is right for your family.

In Scotland, there are no cremation fees from a Council crematoria for registered children under the age of 18. Also some private crematoria do not charge for services for under 18s. Your funeral director will guide you when it comes to choosing the most suitable crematorium depending on the number of people attending, location and technical facilities you might need for sound or weblinks.

If burial is your preferred option, you’ll need to decide whether there is an existing family grave that is right for your child, or whether to consider a new lair which may be used by other family members in time. For new graves the main decision is which cemetery to choose, a church, council or privately-owned cemetery, or a woodland burial site. In Scotland, there are no burial fees applicable in Council cemeteries for registered children under the age of 18. Some private cemeteries do not charge for fees related to under 18s.

Step 8

Arrange a service or memorial for a child

The event we arrange with you to lay your child to rest will be unique to what’s right for you. Let us guide you through the considerations, from choosing someone to lead the service, roles for friends and family as well as finding the best way to take care of flowers, music, transport and notices.

Memorials offer parents a place to go and remember their child in years to come and there are many options available. You can read about these considerations in our guide which can be downloaded below.

Step9

After the funeral

Whenever there is a death in the family – even for babies up to a year old – sadly there are other tasks which can be hard to face. However, if you don’t advise some of the organisations below that you’ve experienced a tragic loss, you may continue to receive correspondence which can be distressing.

The ‘Tell us Once’ service

This is triggered at the registration of death and central and local Government agencies use your National Insurance details and the child’s death certificate to update their records. This is particularly relevant if you are receiving Child Tax Credits, Child Benefit or any other benefit from HMRC. It will also be used for a passport as well as Council Tax.

We’ve put a small list of typical organisations you may want to contact – if relevant – to help with this process.

Financial

  • Banks and building societies/premium bonds
  • Holiday/family insurance policy provider

Personal

  • Nursery or childcare provider
  • Schools, university or college
  • GP, hospital, dentist, optician and anyone else providing medical care: NHS or private provider
  • Libraries, children’s services
  • Church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other place of worship

Remember to review settings for other apps or organisations which are set up to send you highly personalised information about your child.

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