Baby Teegan Hayes was an infant born in Tasmania. On 4 November 2011, she was asleep in the same bed with her parents. She was later found unconscious and taken to hospital.

Efforts were made at resuscitating her with no result. Two days later, Teegan passed away aged 24 days. An investigation without a full inquest was made into the circumstances of her death. 

Background Facts

Kim Maree Fox and Robert William Hayes were the parents of the deceased. They both have degrees of intellectual impairment. Together, they had seven children, four of whom resided with them. Child Protection Services ('CPS') had been alerted on many occasions of the alleged inability of Ms Fox and Mr Hayes to adequately care for their children.

On 13 October 2011, Ms Fox gave birth to a baby girl, Teegan. She was described as a normal, healthy baby. Her parents attended a two-week assessment where a nurse discussed safe-sleeping practices with them, including the dangers of bed-sharing with an infant. Following this, relevant recommendations were made.

On 3 November 2011, the couple had consumed a significant amount of alcohol. They put the deceased in her bassinet and went to bed. At midnight, after the deceased awoke, Ms Fox resorted to caring for her in the double bed she shared with her partner. She and the baby fell asleep. After a period of hours, Ms Fox woke up to find the baby with faint breathing and a small amount of blood around her nose.

Mr Hayes commenced CPR until the ambulance arrived and transported the deceased to the hospital. It was found that there was no electrical activity in the deceased's heart and that she was not breathing. She was pale and floppy with fixated pupils and suffered from constant seizures. Adrenaline and fluid were administered. These helped the deceased regain electrical and mechanical activity in her heart. Incubation and ventilation, as well as transfer to a neonatal intensive care unit helped to stabilise her, despite the seizures continuing.

An MRI showed that there were multiple areas of tissue death in the deceased's brain, leading to a poor prognosis. In consultation with Ms Fox and Mr Hayes, paediatricians decided to withdraw active treatment. By midday on 6 November 2011, the deceased was removed from the ventilator. She was declared dead shortly afterwards. An autopsy found that Teegan died as a result of hypoxic brain injury following respiratory arrest. The Coroner heard that such a death could be caused by suffocation by a sleeping adult or by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Submissions

Evidence from the investigation suggested that neither Ms Fox nor Mr Hayes deliberately acted with the intention of causing harm to the deceased. Rather, it seemed that they did not fully understand their parental responsibilities. A report delivered by CPS showed that they had been notified that the deceased's parents allegedly abused alcohol, were neglectful parents and had inappropriate methods of disciplining their children.

Findings and Recommendations

Coroner Olivia McTaggart found that Teegan accidently suffocated while sleeping with her parents. This suffocation led to 'irreparable brain damage' and eventual death. She found that Teegan should not have been in the care of her parents at the time of her death due to the high level of risk to her.

The Coroner endorsed the recommendations of the Red Nose Organisation for the prevention of sudden death in infants. These included putting babies to sleep in safe cots. The Coroner also recommended that CPS provide ongoing training to its child safety officers in identifying and responding to situations where infants may be at risk of harm due to unsafe sleeping practices.