Our littlest people are at the greatest risk of drowning

A Royal Lifesaving Australia report suggests that one year old children are statistically at the greatest risk of drowning in Australia, with the risk of drowning tripling after a child’s first birthday.

“Parents and carers need to know that the risk of drowning triples as soon as a child starts to crawl, peaking shortly after a child’s first birthday,” Royal Lifesaving CEO Justin Scarr said. The Australian Bureau of Statistics lists drowning as the number one cause of accidental death in children under 5. Last year most of those drownings – 35 per cent – occurred in backyard swimming pools, closely followed by 2 per cent in a lake or dam, and 12 per cent in a bathtub or spa. Royal Life Saving said “almost all” the deaths were due to lack of adult supervision, and 76% of the deaths were as a result of a fall into the water.

Mr Scarr said “We can’t emphasise enough how important active adult supervision is in preventing these deaths. Distractions are dangerous – whether it is taking a phone call, browsing social media or ducking inside to grab something – we ask parents and carers to always keep watch. In addition, it is essential that people install pool fences and check pool gates regularly to make sure they are not faulty or kept propped open.”

The importance of swimming lessons cannot be underestimated. The sooner a child can turn themselves around after a jump or fall into the water and return to the side, the safer they will be. The good news is that in 2021/22 we saw a 29 per cent decrease on the previous years drowning statistics in 0-4 year olds, and a 23 percent decrease on the 10 year average, which can be attributed to getting our little ones back into lessons, or into lessons for the first time, following the covid pandemic. However, we still lost 17 babies and toddlers to drowning, a tragedy I cannot comprehend or accept.

Our Aquatics Operations Manager Robyn Ellery has been a Learn To Swim and Water Babies instructor for nearly 20 years, is also an Austswim assessor, and was instrumental in the development of the Water Babies program at Nepean Aquatic Centre and Eva Bory’s Swim School. Robyn said “Some of the most important components of our Learn to Swim program are the games and exercises that teach the babies and children to jump into the water, when to hold their breath and to either turn over and float or paddle back to the side and hold on, or to pull themselves out. This is absolutely crucial to a child’s water safety”.

She adds ‘We also teach children to wait their turn, and not to enter the water until invited to do so with an adult, an important skill when by the pool at home”.

Royal Life Australia recommends that children 0-5 should be within arm’s reach of a supervising adult at all times when around water.