Bereaved parents’ experiences of the police in the paediatric intensive care unit

Ashleigh E. Butler, Helen Hall, Beverley Copnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: A child's death in the intensive care unit is often sudden and unexpected, requiring the involvement of the state coroner to investigate both the cause and the circumstances surrounding the death. This process often involves the police, who arrive in intensive care to identify the body and collect statements from the parents. At present, very little is known about parents’ experiences of this process. Objectives: To explore bereaved parents’ experiences of police presence in intensive care, as part of routine coronial investigations. The findings arose from a larger study on bereaved parents’ experiences of the death of a child in the intensive care unit. Methods: Secondary analysis of incidental data from a larger grounded theory study. Nine bereaved parents from two paediatric intensive care units (PICUs) mentioned police presence in the PICU during their original audio-recorded, semistructured interviews. These data were extracted, and thematic analysis techniques were used to identify key themes. Results: Three main concepts were identified with the parents’ experiences: (i) timing of police interviews; (ii) the impacts of police presence; and (iii) the demeanour of the officers. Overall, the parents’ experiences of police presence were negative. They felt that police arrived too soon after their child's death and took too long taking their statements, hindering their ability to say goodbye. The presence of police officers also made parents feel as though they were being accused of involvement in their child's death. Finally, several participants also experienced inappropriate or unsympathetic attitudes from the police officers attending their child's death. Conclusions: Findings from our study indicate that parents’ experiences of police presence in the PICU as part of a coronial investigation may be negative, leaving lasting impressions on their experiences of their child's death. These findings provide areas for improvements in care delivery and the treatment of newly bereaved parents during the early phases of a coronial investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-45
Number of pages6
JournalAustralian Critical Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Child
  • Death
  • Grounded theory
  • Intensive care units (paediatric)
  • Parents
  • Police officers

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