Water is only safe while you're watching. This summer, Royal Life Saving is urging parents not to be complacent about their child's safety around water. In conjunction with the Keep Watch program, Royal Life Saving Australia has launched new research to help ensure parents and carers remain even more vigilant as the weather warms up. The statistics below reflect the tragic impact that drowning has had on toddlers over the past 15 years:
461 children under the age of five died due to drowning in Australia over the past 15 years (Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2017), an average of 31 per year. Of these, half were in home pools and spas. Active adult supervision had either lapsed or was entirely absent in all cases
A NSW study of child drowning deaths in home swimming pools over the last 15 years, showed that in 62% of cases, the child gained access to the pool area through a faulty fence or gate, or a gate which had been deliberately propped open, allowing the child to enter the pool area unaccompanied.
In 100% of child drowning cases in home swimming pools, active adult supervision had either lapsed or was entirely absent.
For every toddler drowning death approximately ten children are admitted to hospital as a result of non-fatal drowning. Although they survive, many suffer lifelong consequences.
Almost half (46%) of toddler drowning deaths in home pools occurred in summer, and one fifth (21%) occurred on a Sunday
Michael and Jo-Ann Morris know the tragedy that can come from a faulty pool fence. Their two-year-old son, Samuel slipped through a broken pool fence panel while his mother was doing the washing.
Jo-Ann found Samuel in the pool and gave her son CPR with the support of neighbours and emergency services. Samuel survived the tragic accident but sustained a severe brain injury, requiring long term medical care. After a brave eight-year battle, Samuel passed away in 2014 as a result of his injury.
With the weather warming up, and summer expected to deliver one of the hottest on record, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia CEO Justin Scarr says, 'Australians are comfortable around water. Many have grown up swimming in the backyard pool, going to the beach, playing with the garden sprinkler, or paddling down the river. This familiarity means that parents can, let their guard down, even if just for a moment, complacency can lead to disaster."
'Water is only safe when you're watching. Distractions like answering the phone, attending to another child, or ducking inside to grab something can have tragic consequences if a toddler is left unattended by water."
'Actively supervise children around water, check your pool fence and gate, and never prop the pool gate open. Swimming lessons are great, but they are no substitute for active supervision and a pool fence in good working order."
Visit www.keepwatch.com.au for more information and resources.
Question: Are you surprised by how high the stats are?
Amy Peden: It's concerning that such a high proportion of children are gaining access to pools through faulty fences or gates, particularly in NSW, where 62% of drowning cases occurred due to faulty fences or gates.
Many pool owners don't realise there is an issue with their pool fence or gate. In fact, several councils report that 95% of pools are non-compliant upon first inspection. Over time pool fences and gates can wear down and break due to a number of factors including weather and regular use. It's important for pool owners to regularly check and maintain their pool fence and gate to ensure they're in working order. Pool fences should not be a substitute for active adult supervision, that's why we are urging all parents to Keep Watch this summer.
Question: What do you hope to achieve from the Keep Watch program?
Amy Peden: In conjunction with the Keep Watch program, Royal Lifesaving Australia has launched new research to help ensure parents and carers remain more vigilant as the weather warms up.
The Keep Watch program aims to prevent drowning deaths of children under five years of age in all aquatic locations through awareness, education, research, and advocacy. Children under five are the age group most at risk of drowning, both fatal and non-fatal, with the majority of drownings occurring in and around the home environment, particularly backyard pools.
For over 20 years Keep Watch has been educating Australian parents and carers on how to keep their children safe when in, on or around the water. There has been a 55% decrease in the drowning deaths of children under five across Australia in the past two decades, however, one drowning death is one too many and we're continually working to reduce the number of toddler drowning deaths to zero.
Visit www.keepwatch.com.au for more information and resources.
Question: If you could spread one message from the Keep Watch program, what would it be?
Amy Peden: Active adult supervision is vital whenever children are near water. In 100% of child drowning cases in home swimming pools, active adult supervision had either lapsed or was entirely absent. Modern life is busy and there are many distractions such as mobile phone and household chores that impact upon supervision of young children around water. None of these are worth the loss of a child's life.
The Keep Watch program has four key drowning prevention actions: Supervise, Restrict Access, Water Awareness and Resuscitate. These should not be used individually but together to maximise child safety – if one line of defense fails, the other prevention measures will be actively working to prevent child drowning.
Question: How can we stop parents being complacent about their child's safety around water?
Amy Peden: It's important for parents to be aware that pool fences, swimming lessons, alarms and other devices cannot be solely relied on for drowning prevention.
Active supervision is absolutely critical. Active adult supervision means you need to be prepared, be close, and give all of your attention, all of the time. Answering the door, preparing food, changing a sibling's nappy and answering a call are all distractions that will leave children vulnerable to drowning.
When around water, make sure you are prepared, bring sunblock, towels, water and snacks, so you don't have to leave the area. If you do need to go inside, take the children out of the pool area.
Over summer it's common to have family gatherings and backyard BBQs with friends. It's important that there is a designated supervisor to watch the children at all times, and don't leave children in the care of older siblings. There have been past drowning incidents where although multiple adults were present, it was not clear who was responsible for supervising the pool area, allowing a child to enter the pool unnoticed.
Visit Keepwatch.com.au and join the conversation online via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, using #KeepWatch.
Question: At what age should children begin swimming lessons?
Amy Peden: It depends, every child and family is different, it often depends on the local environment, parental confidence, time and money. Some start young, at the age of 6 months when infants have increase postural control and have received their main immunisations. Mostly it is about fun with bub in the water, and never a replacement for constant supervision. For others, they start when their children are in pre-school or starting school, and the child is ready to take instruction and move independently in the water. It probably doesn't matter when, but it is important that parents recognise that swimming is lifelong, about fun, good health and fitness, as much as they are about reducing the risks of drowning.
Swimming lessons are important; however they are no substitute for active adult supervision.
Question: What types of lessons do young children need to be taught regarding water?
Amy Peden: Boundaries should be set for children from a young age, such as having to wait to go into the pool until an adult is present. Discuss water safety with children, explaining the dangers, and importance of having an adult with them at all times.
Water familiarisation classes provide an opportunity for parents and carers to get their child involved in the development of aquatic skills and water confidence, while increasing social, emotional, mental and physical skills in a safe environment. You can also teach water familiarisation at home. You can use bath time as a time for water awareness, letting your baby or child feel, experience and play with water. You can also put rules in place for children when they go near water and ensure that parents and adults uphold these rules themselves to set a good example.
You can find out more about the Keep Watch programs and home pool safety guidelines at www.keepwatch.com.au.
Interview by Brooke Hunter