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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

17 MAY 2013

Parents who commit suicide after killing their children

Mike Berry

Clinical Forensic Psychologist

Ruth Cliff

Psychology Research Assistant:

Each year in England and Wales, an average of 56 children are victims of homicide.  Smith et.al (2012) suggest that every ten days, a child is killed by his/her parent(s).  Flynn  et. al. (2009), examining homicides followed by suicides in the U.K. (1996-2005), identified 5,096 homicides, of which 203 (4%) offenders died by suicide before trial.  Thirty-seven (18%) cases involved parents killing their children then themselves (an annual average of four parental homicides/suicides). 

Resnick (1969) identified specific motivations for parents who kill their children (e.g. altruistic, acutely psychotic, accidental filicide, unwanted child or spousal revenge).  We also identify parents killing their child for reasons relating to the killer's own status.  Children are equally likely to be killed by their mother or father with no significant difference between immediate or delayed suicide.  Flynn and others. identified a child is most at risk when parents are aged 25-34.  

Mental health and criminal history looks to be a poor predictor of future homicide/suicide risks, therefore from the professionals' viewpoint it is extremely difficult to identify potential killers and as such we are more likely to create 'false positives'.  Nevertheless professionals should be concerned about anyone making threats to kill their children. 

The full version of this article appears in the June 2013 issue of Family Law.    

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