Thanks to improvements in healthcare and general standards of living, losing a child is a rare event: however, the sobering reality is that on average, 21 children and young people do still die every day in the UK.
The loss of a child is one of the most devastating events a parent can face. It is known to be especially difficult to come to terms with and often causes prolonged periods of grief. Parents whose child is stillborn at or after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or who dies shortly after birth, are entitled to parental leave in the same way they would have been if the baby had lived. If a child passes away after this time, until recently there would have been no automatic right to any statutory leave for parents, and what leave is offered has previously been at the discretion of the employer. This has left many bereaved parents returning to work before they are emotionally ready to do so, due to financial and business pressures.
Toddler Jack Herd tragically drowned in a garden pond in 2010 when he was nearly two years old. Since then, his mother, Lucy Herd, has worked tirelessly to offer bereaved parents more time to grieve. Thanks to Lucy’s campaigning, in April 2020 the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018  will come into force, allowing parents and carers who suffer the loss of a child two weeks’ paid bereavement leave. Known as Jack’s Law, this will apply following the loss of a child under the age of 18 in addition to those who are stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
While this is a considerable improvement to the current rights of grieving parents, and may provide some respite in the wake of tragedy, it does still seem insufficient in comparison with the reality of such a distressing loss. There remains a clear inconsistency between the rights of parents on the birth and death of a child; a parent can have up to 12 months’ leave for bringing a child into the world, but only two weeks to adjust to losing one.
The clinical negligence team at Pennington Manches Cooper represents parents who have been bereaved due to negligent medical treatment. Senior associate Helen Hammond comments: “We welcome this improvement in parental rights following the loss of a child, which we hope marks a turning tide in understanding the devastating impact that losing a child has on parents, and the support and time needed to rebuild lives after this loss.”
Members of the clinical negligence team have specialist experience in investigating care where a child is stillborn or dies in the period following birth, due to the circumstances of the birth or a later infection. More information from the team to provide help and guidance to parents in these circumstances can be found here.
Helen Hammond, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper