Portsmouth Child Death Immersion Programme

Dr John Fox, University of Portsmouth Senior Lecturer in Police Studies, collaborates with Drama and Performance students from the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries in the Portsmouth Child Death Immersion Program.

Actors John and Francesca, seen in the image above in the red and black hoodies, were playing the roles of the parents as they anxiously watch doctors try and save their baby’s life.

Dr John Fox shares information about the project:

“As a lecturer in Police Studies I have for some time been interested in the difficulties officers face when investigating child death. Most of these deaths are not suspicious, but because it is relatively easy to kill a small child without leaving any clues (they can’t fight back), it is actually one of the most complex and distressing types of case the police have to tackle, partly because they have to think the unthinkable.

An added factor is that UK Government guidance requires police and doctors to work together to identify the cause of a child’s death. These people come from entirely different cultures, have different mind-sets and use different terminology.

What has this got to do with Creative and Cultural Industries you may wonder?

About 2 years ago I ‘discovered’ within the University our £7 Million Healthcare Simulation Centre hidden away in St. Andrews Building. This is effectively a fully equipped hospital ward, GP surgery and self-contained flat, populated by extremely authentic human mannequin ‘patients’. The idea struck me that we could use this facility to create a very realistic course for police detectives and doctors to simulate working together on a child death investigation. A chat with the very enthusiastic Dr Mick Harper, the Head of Innovation Training led us to develop the programme.

We quickly realised that an essential element of the course would be the use of human actors as the ‘parents’ of the dead child. In a real case, most of the difficult interaction by police and doctors is with grieving parents, and they have to try to support them whilst also still keeping an open mind and testing whether or not they may have harmed the child. This is what causes the most stress so the use of really good, convincing actors was clearly going to be an essential element of the day.

This led me to hunt down Dr Matt Smith our wonderful Senior Lecturer in Applied Theatre. He identified two excellent young people who had studied Drama and Performance at Level 7, here at Portsmouth, and they became the bereaved parents. They were brilliant. We have run 3 courses using the same actors and the feedback from the delegates includes comments such as

“The best training I have ever been on”

“The actors were amazing, they made me have so much empathy for the “parents”

“It all felt so real”

The impact of this course is enormous. These are real professionals learning how to tackle one of the most difficult and stressful aspects of their job, and actors trained here at Portsmouth are helping to inoculate them against the stress that they will face in real life.”

For more information on CDIP visit: