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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

16 MAY 2013

Children bereaved as a result of domestic homicide

Maria Ruegger

Consultant Guardian

Margaret De Jong

Consultant Child Psychiatrist, Child Care Consultation Team, Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Great Ormond St Hospital:

In this article we share our current thinking about the psychological challenges faced by children who suddenly lose both parents, one permanently and the other to the criminal justice system. These children often undergo further disruptions in terms of home, school, friendships and routines. Many will be troubled by intrusive memories of the violent scenes they have witnessed and some experience feelings of guilt about failing to protect the deceased parent. These children are also likely to be caught up in conflict between extended family members and be cared for by adults who are themselves struggling to manage intense feelings of grief and traumatic stress, and whose ability to assist children with processing their feelings about their losses is compromised as a result.   If the tragic event is the outcome of pre-existing domestic violence, parental mental illness, substance misuse or personality difficulties then issues of complex trauma and impaired resilience also need to be addressed.

In giving judgment in Re A and B (One Parent Killed by the Other) [2010] EWHC 3824, [2013] FLR Forthcoming

Mrs Justice Hogg issued practice guidance on the arrangements to be made for children in circumstances  where one parent has killed the other. The guidance is: ‘intended to provide a framework in order to avoid compounding the very significant harm which the children involved in such cases have already suffered'. Children bereaved in this way suddenly lose both parents, one permanently and the other to the criminal justice system. They may also be caught up in conflict between extended  family members and be cared for by adults who are themselves struggling to manage their own feelings of loss, distress and anger. This paper provides a clinical perspective on the need for such a framework, using the experience of a multidisciplinary expert witness team of child mental health professionals at Great Ormond St Hospital for Children. 

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

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