What to do when a child dies

Where did the death occur?

If your child died in a hospital or hospice

A doctor will usually give you a certificate giving the cause of death and a notice explaining how to register the death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The hospital or hospice will take care of them until you have arranged to call a funeral director.

If your child died at home or elsewhere (for example in respite care)

Your GP should be called as soon as possible and asked when they can come and examine your child in order to issue the certificate giving the cause of death. You will also need to decide whether you wish your child's body to be laid out at home or transferred to a funeral parlour. The GP may decide to visit the funeral parlour to issue the certificate.

You will need to register the certificate of death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages so you can arrange the funeral and make any practical arrangements.

Who can help?

If your child died at home, in hospital or elsewhere, you can access the support of your local children's hospice. Parents have said support from their local children's hospice has been invaluable at this time.

Hospices can provide emotional support and counselling, plus information about other support organisations in your area. They also provide practical help, advice and information. For example they may be able to support you with registering the death and provide guidance about funerals. You can find your local hospice in the telephone directory or on your local authority's website.

Hospice services may also be able to come to your home. They can ensure other family members are supported, including siblings, and may help with things like creating memory boxes.

Your general practitioner (GP), community children's nurse or community paediatrician may also be able to give you information about local bereavement services, support groups, and organisations that offer other support, including practical, emotional and financial help.

Registering the death

You will usually need to register the death within five days - eight days if you live in Scotland. Understandably, parents may feel this will be too much for them, so a friend or relative who was there at the death can do this for you.

You can find the address of your nearest register office in the telephone directory or by searching on your local authority website. You may need to book an appointment.

What do you need to take with you?

To register the death you (or the person who goes on your behalf) will need to take the medical certificate of death issued by the doctor. You will need to give the registrar the following information:

  • The date and place of death.
  • Your child's full name, address, date and place of birth.
  • The names, address(es) and occupations of both parents.
  • If possible, take your child's NHS medical card and birth certificates with you; these aren't essential.

When you have registered the death

The registrar will give you a green certificate to give to the funeral director. This allows the burial or cremation to go ahead.

They should also give you a certified copy of the entry in the register (death certificate). You can use this to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), or the Social Security Agency, that your child has died. There is a small fee for this.

In some areas your registrar may also provide you with the details of the Tell Us Once scheme - this allows a variety of government agencies such as social services, the passport office, and the DWP to be informed about a death at the same time.

If the cause of death is unknown

In these cases a coroner must investigate to find out, for the benefit of bereaved people and for official records, how someone has died. This will usually involve holding a post-mortem examination.

If it was not possible to find out the cause of death from the post-mortem examination, the coroner has to hold an inquest. An inquest is a public court hearing held by the coroner in order to establish who died and how, when and where the death occurred. More information is available at the gov.uk website.

Next: Help with funeral expenses