The Nightmare Begins: Emergency Responders

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For many parents, the period following the death of a child does indeed feel like a nightmare, with the desperate need to wake up and find everything is OK again.

“Why am I bothering with life? How can I go on with my life when my son is dead? A child is so much part of your future that when that child has gone, you are not the same.”

“Nobody knows what they can handle until they have to. If someone had told me that my child was going to die, and that I was going to survive it, I would have said, ‘You are absolutely crazy. I could never handle that.’”

When a family member, carer or bystander rings 000, both local police and ambulance are notified, even if only one service has been requested by the caller.

Police Investigation

When a child dies suddenly or unexpectedly, regardless of age, the law requires that the police attend and report to a coroner. The coroner then decides whether the child needs to be brought directly to the coroner’s or not. The protocols of the Emergency Services personnel and also the coronial process may vary in different States and Territories.

We refer you to the booklet: “The Coroner’s Process - Information for Family and Friends” in your area.

“I remember that night when the police came. We roughly had three lots of police interview us. The first lot were uniformed. They arrived fairly quickly after they had pronounced Sian gone.”

“I thought they believed that I had murdered my child. And I just sat there … there was a young guy, who we called the ‘tea boy’, who I thought was straight out of the academy, he went off to make the tea! But the girl, and I still remember her name - it was Alexa – she did nothing, and I mean nothing, to make me feel not guilty. I sat there and thought: How do I make her believe me that I was not…I was on my own when Sian died, and it made me think it was my word against everyone else’s. How do I tell her…I just kept saying over and over and over again ‘I tried, I tried so hard to save her.’”

“I may have felt less guilty if they had assured me it was just procedure. I had no idea that the police would come to our house to photograph everything. And so when they came in and said the police were here to see us, I thought like ‘Oh My God, they are going to lock me up!’ I honestly thought they are going to take me away tonight and lock me up because they think this was my fault. And that is scary stuff.”

“Another two arrived in plain clothes and this police woman was a much nicer lady. She explained that she had some questions that she needed to ask me and I have since found out from a friend of mine, who is in the police force, that it has all to do with SIDS. They have a questionnaire. She went through a lot of questions and said, ‘I am sorry I have to ask them.’ She was very apologetic and said it was procedure.”

“We were told she would have to be taken to the Children’s Hospital. Rob and I discussed carefully, lovingly, what she should wear and decided upon her pink and blue gypsy dress. We dressed her with all the care and reverence we had been unconsciously storing up for her first day of school or maybe her wedding day, while all the while fighting the thought, ‘None of this matters: she’s dead’”.

(please note: protocols vary from state to state.)

Once the police have completed their investigation, some Australian States offer the option for parents to escort their child to a hospital to spend time with him/her in a supportive setting. If you are able to do this and make this choice, you may wish to carry your child from your home to the ambulance and to nurse him/her during the journey to the hospital.

“At the hospital, I remember looking from Rob, to my father, to the Doctor, to a friend who had joined us: looking for some explanation of the horror that had just occurred. I also remember the beginning of a feeling that continues to this day, a feeling of having my heart wrenched out of my chest.”

During the time spent with your baby/young child, you may choose to take photographs, collect a lock of your baby’s hair or spend precious time talking to your baby/young child, saying things that would otherwise have been left unsaid. You may prefer to just look and hold and create memories this way. Other children may also be encouraged to spend time with their brother/sister.

In Australia, the Emergency Responders will do their best to make this possible, either at home or at hospital.

“It would have been helpful to be told: here are things you need to think about. You need to think, in your own time, about gathering photos together, in fact, have a checklist where you can say: ‘Cool, I have to do that’.”

“I hadn’t realised the significance of being asked by the nurse, ‘Would you like a lock of your little girl’s hair?’ So many years down the track and I still touch the locket around my neck holding a piece of her hair. I remember and hold her close to my heart. I need that. It is all I have.”

Some parents may request to stay at home or at the scene with the child until the arrival of the Coroner’s contract Funeral Director. It is possible for you to spend time with your baby/young child at these places. Sometimes, where a post-mortem is legally required, you may not be able to touch and hold your baby/ young child until after this has been completed.

“A booklet needs to be given to parents at the hospital when they leave. You need to be armed with as much knowledge going home as possible. We walked out of there with nothing. Even with the Coroner’s booklet, we were still clueless. It needs to be in a pack of some sort where they say to you: ‘Don’t look at it now, but if you have any questions they are going to be answered in this book’.”

It is important to be able to ask questions. The Coroners Court’s Family and Community Support Service in Victoria, for example, offers assistance and advice, and can be called at any time. Check your own State’s availability.

“I didn’t know what to ask. I felt stunned. It was invaluable being able to talk to a counsellor who spoke so openly and encouraged me to think of questions I wanted answered now. It is important to look back and have no regrets. You need someone to guide you.”

This article was prepared using extracts from Your Child has Died: Some Answers To Your Questions.1 The full text is available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.


Last reviewed: 3/12/22