Urgent need for bereavement training for chaplains in maternity hospitals

The UCC report states the care provided to families following the death of a baby influences their grief journey and plays a key part in their overall recovery.

A RESEARCH STUDY into bereavement training of healthcare chaplains who care for parents following the death of a baby finds that the training of chaplains in Ireland is “diverse”.

The study, carried out by Mr Daniel Nuzum and Dr Keelin O’Donoghue based in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University College Cork Maternity Hospital finds that the “lack of specialised training and education in perinatal bereavement is an area that should be addressed and supported as a matter of urgency”.


One in every 200 babies is stillborn in Ireland every year, with the report citing that the care provided to families following the death of a baby influences their grief journey and plays a key part in their overall recovery.

The study involved 85 per cent of maternity hospitals in Ireland. Over 20 chaplains from 17 units participated in the study.

Over 60 per cent of chaplains are formally accredited chaplains, but the study found that only one has received specialist training in perinatal bereavement care.

Eleven chaplains provide follow-up bereavement care, while seven chaplains saying they did not feel part of the multidisciplinary team.

The provision of spiritual care following stillbirth in Ireland is diverse, stated the report, citing that the spiritual care in this “specialised area” by chaplains who are not professionally trained and accredited potentially impacts on the quality and depth of care.

Faith and guidance

The report makes recommendations for ongoing education and greater support for chaplains, who say that there own faith is challenged when providing care.

Healthcare chaplains are the professional providers of spiritual and pastoral care working alongside other healthcare disciplines, accompanying families during a difficult time.

Historically, most chaplains in Ireland were ordained or from a religious order.

However, chaplaincy has evolved in recent decades to include the employment of qualified lay people. The study shows that of those that took part in the study, just 30 per cent are lay people. Of the 70 per cent that are ordained, 85 per cent are Roman Catholic and 15 per cent are Anglican.

The reports raised the issue that eight chaplains (40%) are not formally accredited as healthcare chaplains, stating that this is concerning in respect of the professional approach and importance of spiritual care needed for this “complex area”.

The accreditation of healthcare chaplains is recommended practice so that those who are appointed have received appropriate formation, supervised education and learning.

The report finds that “the diagnosis that a baby will not survive or has already died in utero brings with it a bewildering array of emotional distress where birth and death collide with life-long impact for the parents.  How parents are cared for during this delicate time can have long-lasting consequences, both positive and negative”.

Lived experience

The objective of the study was to research the lived experience of healthcare chaplains working in maternity hospitals as they provide spiritual and pastoral care for parents who have been given the news that their baby has died.

The impact of caring for bereaved parents was considerable, with every chaplain in the research report speaking emotionally about the impact of death on them personally and professionally.

Read: Study highlights lack of training for doctors in supporting parents after stillbirth>

Read: One in eight pregnancies described as a crisis – study>

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