FirstLight conference in Portlaoise aims to help doctors, nurses and others help parents deal with a child's sudden death


Margaret McGoldrick, Psychotherapist, FirstLight, Tony O'Brien, Director General, HSE and Fionnuala Sheehan, CEO FirstLight & Conference Chair at the FirstLight Conference. Pic Alf Alf Harvey

Helping nurses, doctors, gardaí and others and others health services workers to be better equipped when a family has suffered the devastating loss of a child was the subject of a special conference was held in Portlaoise this week.

FirstLight, formerly Irish Sudden Infant Death Association, promotes and supports a compassionate and collaborative culture among front line professionals in the health service who engage with parent who have suffered the sudden loss of a child.

FirstLight’s conference theme in the Killeshin Hotel on October 19 was 'working together to make a difference'.

The organisers said loss of a child is an unimaginable and devastating experience for parents and families. It affects families irrespective of economic means, location and region, and the affect is profound. When the death is sudden and unexpected, it is associated with even more negative outcomes.

FirstLight CEO is Fionnuala Sheehan.

“Sudden deaths are more likely to result in a post-mortem and, understandably, this can be difficult for relatives since the sense of loss at death is compounded by the shock of its suddenness, and by the fact that funeral arrangements may have to be delayed as a result of the post-mortem. Frontline professionals need to be equipped with the skills and training to respond to the more intense needs of suddenly bereaved parents and relatives.”

Ms. Sheehan added that 2,400 frontline professionals have to date attended FirstLight’s training programme designed to enhance the healthcare professional’s clinical knowledge and skills when supporting families who experience the death of a baby, child or young person.

For more information on FirstLight, visit

FirstLight’s 2017 conference aimed to further enhance frontline professionals’ skills and knowledge. It had a multidisciplinary focus on promoting and supporting collaboration amongst the range of frontline professionals.

Those who come in contact with suddenly bereaved parents and relatives include: paediatric, emergency and public health nurses, doctors, paramedics, Gardai, funeral directors, coroners, and chaplain.

Ms Sheehan said that there is a welcome focus in recent times on improving end-of-life care and promoting compassionate care in hospitals in Ireland.

Mr. Tony O’ Brien, Director General, HSE addressed the Conference on the HSE’s role in providing bereavement care.

The former Dublin City Coroner, Dr. Brian Farrell presented to delegates on the role of the  coroner.

Sergeant Sandra Masterson, Funeral Director Gerard Quinn and Bereavement Liaison Midwife, Brenda Casey discussed bereavement care from their respective perspectives.

Nuala Harmey, Bereavement Consultant will present on children’s needs when a sibling dies, and Karen Brennan will speak about the importance of caring for professional teams.

Facilitated by Margaret Mc Goldrick, FirstLight psychotherapist, suddenly bereaved parents will discuss sudden bereavement from their perspective. Representatives from a number of organisations active in providing support to bereaved families will have stands at the conference.

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FirstLight 2017 attendees. Pic: Alf Harvey

About FirstLight: FirstLight, formerly Irish Sudden Infant Death Association, is the leading national charity providing crisis interventions and supports by qualified therapists to suddenly bereaved parents and families who have suffered the loss of a child up to 18 years of age.

FirstLight, formerly the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association, is a voluntary organisation established some 40 years ago. Its purpose is to provide professional, qualified support to parents and families who have lost a child or adolescent suddenly. Through understanding their grieving process and receiving help in dealing with bereavement from appropriately trained professionals, families can learn to live with their loss and begin rebuilding their lives.  They can find the FirstLight.

FirstLight’s services are provided nationwide, free of charge, and include crisis Intervention, individual counselling and psychotherapy, couple counselling and psychotherapy, structured residential groups, home visits, a befriending service and a National Lo-Call helpline that operates 24/7.

The National Paediatric Mortality Register was established within FirstLight; through its research and intervention initiatives such as the “Safe Sleep” intervention, the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Cot Death) has reduced significantly in Ireland.  

FirstLight provides training in bereavement to frontline health, paramedic, Gardai, and related service providers, and hosts an annual conference which is attended by some 200 frontline service providers and related not for profit organisations.

FirstLight receives some funding from Tusla and relies substantially on the generosity of its corporate supporters, volunteers and the general public to provide its critical services.

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