A new report by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel calls for the Government to develop new tools to help prevent the sudden unexpected death of infants (SUDI).

The independent panel of experts reviews serious child safeguarding incidents, when children have died or suffered serious harm, to learn how to improve the safeguarding system.

While the overall numbers of babies dying from SUDI are decreasing, a worrying number of deaths have been notified to the panel as serious child safeguarding incidents. Between June 2018 and August 2019, the deaths of 40 babies from SUDI were reported to the panel. Most of whom died after co-sleeping in bed or on a chair or sofa, often with parents who had consumed drugs or alcohol.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director iHV, commented:

“The loss of every baby is a tragedy for their parents and the services supporting them, so it is reassuring to see the number of babies dying from SUDI continues to fall.  This suggests that the safe sleeping messages are generally getting through.  However, as this report makes clear, more of these deaths might still be prevented if all parents had the right support when they were struggling with multiple issues – information alone is not enough. Again, this makes the case for health visiting services to be strengthened so that the support needs of all parents are recognised early and that they are given timely and appropriate help.”

The review reveals families with babies at risk of dying in this way are often struggling with several issues, such as domestic violence, poor mental health or unsuitable housing. It found that these deaths often occur when families experience disruption to their normal routines and so are unable to engage effectively with safer sleeping advice. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) and the associated anxieties about money, social isolation and mental health issues, disruptions that led to the deaths of these infants may be more prominent at present.

To address this, the panel is calling for local areas to reduce the risk of SUDI by incorporating it into wider strategies for responding to social and economic deprivation, domestic violence and parental mental health concerns. This should be backed up by new government tools and processes to support frontline practitioners and local safeguarding partners to make these changes.