Hospital-based bereavement services following the death of a child: a mixed study review

Palliat Med. 2015 Mar;29(3):193-210. doi: 10.1177/0269216314556851. Epub 2014 Nov 13.


Background: There has been a breadth of research on the grief experience of parents following the death of a child. However, the role and impact of hospital-based bereaved services remain unclear.

Aim: To identify services offered to bereaved families in perinatal, neonatal, and pediatric hospital settings and summarize the psychosocial impact of these services and published recommendations for best practice hospital-based bereavement care.

Design: Systematic review of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method studies guided by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses checklist and methodological quality appraised in accordance with the Mixed Method Appraisal Tool.

Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health, and PsychINFO were searched to find studies describing hospital-based bereavement services/interventions for parents, siblings, and grandparents.

Results: In all, 14 qualitative, 6 quantitative, and 10 mixed method studies were identified. Nine descriptive articles were also included. Qualitatively, family members described feeling cared for and supported by staff, a reduction in sense of isolation, and improved coping and personal growth. Quantitatively, bereavement services have most effect for parents experiencing more complex mourning. It is recommended that bereavement services be theoretically driven and evidence based, offer continuity of care prior to and following the death of a child, and provide a range of interventions for the "whole family" and flexibility in service delivery.

Conclusions: There is a role for transitional hospital-based services/interventions for families in the lead up to and following the death of a child. Further mixed method research is required to inform best practice bereavement care guidelines in the perinatal, neonatal, and pediatric hospital settings.

Keywords: Bereavement; child; death; hospitals—pediatric; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Death
  • Bereavement*
  • Child
  • Clinical Competence
  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hospice Care / standards*
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology
  • Social Support*