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New research confirms most cases of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy occur in families well known to support services

A study by the University of Warwick investigated 30 Serious Case Reviews linked to Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) to develop a detailed understanding of the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

Of the 30 cases reviewed 27 detailed reports were available which indicate that if parents followed UK safe sleep guidance many of those infant deaths could have been avoided.

The research identified the following risk factors were prevalent in the children’s families

  • Alcohol or drug dependency in 18 out of the 27 cases,
  • Parental mental health problems in 14 of the 27
  • Domestic abuse in 9 of the 27
  • Parental criminal records in 13 of the 27.

Most of the infants had received support from social care and 10 of these were subject to child protection plans. Neglect was a feature in 15 of the 27 cases.

The research also highlighted that, in the majority of cases (18 of the 27 studied), parents did not engage with professionals - including social care in 14 of the 18, health care in 13 of the 18 and drug and substance misuse services in 5 of the 18.

Eighteen of 27 deaths occurred in highly hazardous sleep environments, 16 of the 18 involved co-sleeping and 13 of these 16 co-sleeping deaths occurred with parents who were intoxicated with alcohol or impaired by drugs.

The research concludes that more consideration is needed on how best to support such vulnerable families with suggestions that children's professionals should help parents who use drugs and alcohol to develop safe sleep practices.

The report comments "Health visitors and midwives should be encouraged to ask both parents about their use of alcohol and other substances, and help them develop safe sleep practices, including the avoidance of co-sleeping, which can then be used when parents are affected by substances".