Royal Life Saving Society urge parental supervision to stop toddler drowning statistics

Life skill: Chris and Sebastian Skilton getting ready for the Summer months by learning an important life skill with Austswim instructor Ann Schultz at Tamworth Learn to Swim. Photo: Peter Hardin
Life skill: Chris and Sebastian Skilton getting ready for the Summer months by learning an important life skill with Austswim instructor Ann Schultz at Tamworth Learn to Swim. Photo: Peter Hardin

In the past 15 years, 461 Australian toddlers have drowned, with 60 per cent of those in home pools, according to the Royal Life Saving Society, who has launched a new campaign to tackle the tragic statistics.

NSW recorded the highest number of children aged 0-4 drowning, with 148 since June 2002, and alarmingly there is a preventable common denominator in each and every one of those 148 cases.

Royal Life Saving Society NSW CEO David Ilinsky said “active adult supervision had either lapsed or was entirely absent in all cases”.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Tamworth Learn to Swim operator Roslyn Lauritzen would like to see swimming become part of the school curriculum in Australia as an invaluable life skill.

“Twenty-five years ago swimming used to be taught in schools, but now it is just a two-week intensive course in primary schools – it is not enough,” Ms Lauritzen said.

“Kids have a different skill set these days, and with both parents working to pay the mortgage with kids at daycare from six weeks the budget might not stretch to swimming lessons.” 

While The Royal Life Saving Society says there is no substitute for the safety that comes with active supervision and a pool fence in full working order, Ms Lauritzen believes that swimming lessons and water familiarity can also help to keep families safe.

She believes that familiarity and being comfortable around water are the keys to learning how to swim, and to children being able to save themselves in the event of an accident.

“Swimming is still considered a sport, but it is a life skill like walking, reading and writing,” she said.

“Once you have learnt it, the instincts immediately come back when you need them, like riding a bike.” 

The Austswim instructor recommends children be introduced to “being in water and having water on their face” from six months of age, before full swimming lessons can begin between the ages of 2-3.

At that age children can learn to do the “monkey walk” around the edge of a pool in order to get themselves to the stairs or ladder to get out, as well as learn to float on their backs.

Parents are also urged to always keep their resuscitation and CPR skills up to date to avoid becoming a statistic.