Until recent times, a stillbirth or the death of a baby was something most families experienced. As a consequence, the bereaved parents obtained strong community support. They derived solace from the fact that relatives and neighbours had gone through the experience, and were able to help. At that time, the parents, who were generally young, often suffered extreme financial hardship. Consequently, the routine burial of babies took place in common or pauper graves, in cemeteries throughout the country. It's still not unusual to place many babies in each grave. It is not always permitted to place memorial stones over such graves. This common grave form of burial persists in a few parts of the country as the only option for baby burials. Some families purchase a "private" grave for the burial to ensure that they can place a memorial.
As a consequence of medical and social improvements, a stillbirth or baby death is a rare experience in modern times. Consequently, bereaved parents can feel isolated and need good advice and support. As part of this, it is essential that the funeral satisfies their needs. The development of more sensitive options is required to ensure that parents can grieve properly and do not suffer unnecessary psychological harm.
Baby funerals generally fall into two categories. Firstly there are funerals arranged through a hospital and secondly there are those privately arranged by the family. This item considers burial facilities in cemeteries but cremation is also a funeral option. Churchyard burials are outside the remit of this Charter.
This usually involves an agreement with a "contract" funeral director and a specific cemetery. A special area may be designated at the cemetery for these burials, perhaps called the "Babies Memorial Garden" or similar. The burial, typically using a small white coffin, will take place at an agreed time, to which the family will be invited. The grave will be dressed with artificial grass mats and a service will take place, if desired by the family. It is important that such funerals are treated individually and are not subjected to a lesser quality than that offered for "private" funerals.
The hospital service is offered for stillbirth (a baby born dead after the 24th week of pregnancy) and babies born alive, who subsequently die. In the case of a home delivery, this service may also be available. More recently, in some areas, this burial option has been offered in cases of foetal loss, from 16 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is to prevent these babies being placed in the hospital incinerator (see below for further details on foetal remains).
The hospital authority generally does not charge for these burial arrangements. They also pay any necessary cemetery fees, although many local authorities offer their cemetery services free of charge in these cases.
The arrangements between the hospital and the cemetery vary considerably throughout the country but should allow for certain basic requirements. As an example, schemes should allow for individual burial, in individual small graves. Any suggestion that this represents a common or pauper grave must be avoided.
The bereaved should be able to place a memorial, vases and tributes. Where successful schemes are operating, it is noticeable that the parents or family need to place teddy bears, dolls and other baby related items on the graves. This can be accommodated by the grave design (by a hard surface at the head of the grave) and should not be regulated against. The memorial regulations should allow baby related designs i.e. teddy bears, angels, hearts, etc. and accommodate inscriptions of a colloquial and familiar nature.
The arrangement for the burial (or cremation) of fetal remains (up to 24 weeks) varies throughout the U.K. In general, foetal remains have been included with "clinical waste" and placed in hospital incinerators. Since 1995, many hospitals have been unable to afford the upgrading of their incinerators to accord with the requirements of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and are discounting on-site incineration. Consequently, clinical waste, including foetal remains, is increasingly being transported to regional waste incineration plants. This fact, as well as treating foetal remains as clinical waste, has attracted adverse criticism. Some people consider that foetal remains should be treated as human remains, and handled by local burial and cremation facilities. The Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration are co-ordinating action to improve this situation.
These must be made if the hospital option is not available or is otherwise unsatisfactory. Also, if parent(s) dislike the cemetery or graves used, they may prefer to make their own arrangements. When making private arrangements they may have the option to choose the scheme outlined above but may prefer to but a "private" grave. The conditions that apply and the use of private graves will be similar to that which applies in the adult graves. These are outlined in the Charter section "Grave Choice", to which you should refer. The ceremony and other arrangements for the burial will be as indicated in the Charter.
It is important that the parents consider their own death and funeral at this time. This is because many cemeteries will allow the parents to purchase a full size grave for an infant burial, with the parent(s) own burial(s) taking place above the infant many years later. This opportunity for the parents and infant to be together may be greatly appreciated. It is an important consideration and must be made quickly, before the funeral details are finalised. This will require the excavation of the grave to a greater depth and size, which may entail higher costs.
The privately arranged funeral will need to be paid for by the family. Advice should be obtained about any benefits available to help pay for the funeral. Some funeral directors reduce or waive their fees for infants, and this should be considered. The burial can be arranged without a funeral director and you should refer to the Charter item on this subject.
It is traditional to inter babies in a white coffin, which normally consists of chipboard covered by white cloth. Some parents feel that a coffin is too harsh and hard a container for an infant and prefer to use woollen shrouds, wicker or "Moses" baskets and other "softer" containers. Should they so wish, this can allow the parents personally too place the child in what they feel is a more "comfortable" position. Increasing the personal input of the parents benefits them psychologically and helps in their subsequent grieving. Placing photographs or other personal items with the body or carrying the coffin or container are other examples of this kind of benefit.
Many parents appear to benefit from the location of baby graves in specific sections. This prevents the parent(s) form feeling that they are isolated and alone with their loss. They can see, and meet, other parents and experience the deaths of other babies through existing memorials and inscriptions. It is very important that the babies' graves are not seen to "fill-in" narrow verge edges, or pieces of land unsuitable for adult burial. Some cemeteries now offer baby and infant graves in sections focussed around a central memorial or feature.
Several charities offer support and advice to parent(s) who experience a stillbirth or baby death. Details of your local representatives can be obtained from your Charter member. This Charter will support the needs and requirements of these charities to enable them to offer help to parents. Charter members will discuss with these groups the design and use of the facilities and the process by which they are utilised. These arrangements will enable the Charter to define an improving standard of care throughout the country.
The complexity of arranging baby and infant funerals can prove difficult. It is important to speak to a Charter member to clarify the arrangements in each area.
Each grave is prepared with clean artificial grass mats for the graveside service. The grave will be dug to the correct dimensions as stated on the interment form. For new graves there will be a temporary plot marker made so that it will identify that grave after the burial until permanent memorial is placed on the grave.
The funereal director and family will be met at the cemetery by a cemetery official who is there to check the right coffin is buried, ensure the paperwork is in order and that everything runs smoothly. He/she will liaise with the funeral director and minister for the proceedings. The family will be offered the option of carrying the coffin to the graveside. Once the family is ready, the procession lead by the minister and cemetery official will walk to the grave.
The coffin will be placed on the ground to the side of the grave and the ropes thread through the handles. The cemetery official and funeral director on the instruction of the minister will lower the coffin and stand back afterwards. The funeral director will place the floral tributes on the grass nearby for you to view. At the end of the service the mourners will be offered soil in which to scatter on the coffin or they can place in a flower from a floral tribute.
Once the mourners have left the graveside, the cemetery staff will back fill the grave and the floral tributes will be placed on top of the grave with the plot marker if applicable. The flowers will remain there not less than 14 days. If the family has not moved them the cemetery staff will dispose of the floral tributes.
Designated sections available at the following cemeteries for the interment of babies.
A small memorial and kerb set is allowed on the grave. A grave can be unpurchased although it has to be purchased to erect a memorial.
It is your right to be offered an individual grave for a baby or infant. If this grave is "private", your rights and period of grave ownership will be defined. Permission to pace a memorial in accordance with the regulations in force will be given.
It is your right to be able to purchase an adult grave for the burial of a baby or infant, with sufficient depth remaining to allow adult burials.