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Incapacitation or death of a socially isolated parent or carer could result in the death of dependent children


 Professor RW Byard, Forensic Science Centre, 21 Divett Place, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia. Fax: +61 8 8226 7777; email:


Abstract:  A study was undertaken to investigate features of infant and childhood fatalities that were a consequence of care by socially isolated adults suffering from significant medical conditions. Autopsy records at the Forensic Science Centre in Adelaide from July 1996 to June 2001 were searched for all cases where infants or children had died as a result of the incapacitation or death of an adult carer. A total of two cases were found, involving three children. The carers were aged 51 years (grandfather) and 20 years (mother) and had died at home from ischaemic heart disease and epilepsy, respectively. The children were all boys and were aged 1 year, 2.5 years and 3 years. The child victims had died of dehydration following the adult deaths. These cases demonstrate that infants and young children in the care of socially isolated and unwell adults could be at risk of significant injury or death if the carer dies or becomes incapacitated. The provision of medical-emergency buttons for such families, and/or the setting up of regular contact with medical clinics or neighbours are steps that could be taken to diminish the risk of such an outcome.

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