Investigating unexpected deaths of small children

Every year an average of 30 children younger than 4 years old die suddenly and unexpectedly in Norway. Compared to cases involving adults, these deaths entails particular challenges as it requires a careful balance of considerations between the child and parents right to legal protection, the responsibility of health-care services to take care of the bereaved family, and the duty of the police to investigate whether the death could involve any criminal acts. 

In 2010 a model of voluntary death scene investigation performed by health care personnel was implemented for cases with no criminal suspicion. 

Due to an amendment in the Criminal Procedure Act section 224 fourth paragraph in 2011, the police are obligated to start an investigation when children under the age of 18 die sudden and unexpectedly. Such investigation includes ordering forensic autopsy.

The aim of the project is to evaluate the quality of these investigations.  

Main research questions:

  1. Which critical factors contribute to a successful outcome in terms of clarifying the chain of events and determining a cause of death? 
  2. Which measures can be implemented to better the quality of the investigations? 

All unexpected deaths of children under the age of four, from all of Norway over a ten-year period, are included in the project. 

The amendment of The Criminal Procedure Act in 2011 together with the implementation of voluntary death scene investigations are both part of the government’s efforts to increase the legal protection of children. This project will examine whether the legislation is designed to fulfill that intention, by analyzing the cases in the context of the legal requirements. 

The study is approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Norwegian Directorate of Health, who also granted the right to access confidential information from police records, forensic autopsy reports medical records. The Norwegian Data Protection Authority has approved the study in regards to the disclosure and protection of personal data.

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