University launch immersive course for professionals responding to unexpected child death

The UK’s first immersive course to help doctors, police officers and other healthcare professionals understand each other’s roles when responding to the unexpected death of a child is being launched at the University of Portsmouth.

While unexpected child death is rare in the UK, child death investigation is one of the most important and challenging roles undertaken by police and paediatricians.

Government guidance requires doctors, police officers and others, to work together as a joint agency team to investigate the case of an unexpected child death. Practitioners are drawn from different professional cultures, with different priorities, and sometimes they struggle to understand why they each need to operate in a certain way. This can create tension and a lack of good quality joint working.

The one-day Child Death Immersion Programme, which launched this week, is believed to be the only multi-agency simulation training of this nature in the country. It is a joint collaboration between the University’s Institute of Criminal Justice Studies and the School of Health Sciences and Social Work, supported by Strategic Partner, Hampshire Constabulary.

It will involve doctors and senior detectives from local agencies working together through high-intensity exercises and realistic simulations in the University’s £7m Centre for Simulation in Health and Care.

Participants will begin to understand what it’s like to work in a child death situation with colleagues, from either police or medicine. They will experience the pressures and fears from both sides and learn a number of tools and techniques to deal with the situation, such as:

  • communicating with parents and family members after a child has died.
  • the need for clarity in communication, and information sharing.
  • taking command of, and planning, the initial police response to the sudden unexpected death of a child.
  • conducting a home visit with the relevant health professional, identifying key factors relevant to the death and investigation.

The aim is to help them better understand each other’s role in the investigation and improve their ability to safeguard children from harm. If practitioners from safeguarding agencies don’t work together well to find a cause, surviving children may be left at risk of harm.

Dr John Fox, Senior Lecturer in Police Studies and Co-Director of the course, said: “A case of child death can have a big impact on those investigating its cause – making this course an important way for participants to build valuable experience. It tackles evidence from Serious Case Reviews that indicates that a lack of understanding of respective roles can cause a breakdown in trust and communication, and lead to increased anxiety.

“When participants complete the course, they’ll understand not only the technical process, but also non-technical skills, such as how it feels emotionally to work alongside police and doctors in a collaborative and respectful way.”

Dr Richard John, Independent Chair of the Portsmouth Safeguarding Children Board, said: “I was delighted when I was told that our local University here in Portsmouth has teamed up with doctors from the nearby NHS Trusts, and Hampshire Police, to create an exciting training course which will bring together police investigators, paediatricians and other doctors, in a realistic simulated learning environment to help them better understand each other’s roles, and to communicate and share information in an effective way.”

There are three courses planned throughout the year. As part of their learning, a number of University students from nursing, forensic, and paramedic courses will also have the opportunity to be involved and work alongside doctors and police during the day.

Dr Mick Harper, Associate Head (Innovation) in the School of Health Sciences and Social Work and Co-Director of the course, said: “This programme is testament to how a well-planned, fully immersive, multi-professional simulated learning experience can be used to great effect. This programme does not hold back on the reality or truth of this stressful event.

“What is particularly innovative is that we deploy some of our undergraduate health and care students and students from our Forensic Innovation Centre to take part in the scenarios, offering them unique, managed ‘real-world’ experience to learn from health and police professionals. Such opportunities are very rare, which often results in learners or qualified staff attending ‘real’ events with no prior experience. Hence our pride in developing such a challenging, meaningful and important programme.”