Ex-swimming instructor on soaring summer drowning deaths in Australia and what needs to be done

After a horror summer of drownings, and with deaths rising in recent years despite public safety campaigns, why are so many Australians getting into trouble in the water?

According to the Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll, 43 drowning deaths had been reported in Australia this summer alone as of mid-January.

Drowning cases among school-age children have increased particularly sharply in recent years.

And while children are being enrolled in swimming lessons with a record number of an estimated 1.7 million children enrolled — a 20 percent increase from pre-pandemic enrollments — drowning deaths are still rising, and that’s why.

As a former swimming teacher, I’ve helped many children learn to swim, but I’ve also seen where we fail.

While children, with an estimated 1.7 million children, are being enrolled in swimming lessons at record rates, a 20 percent increase from pre-pandemic enrollments, drowning deaths are still rising

While children, with an estimated 1.7 million children, are being enrolled in swimming lessons at record rates, a 20 percent increase from pre-pandemic enrollments, drowning deaths are still rising

Primary school-age children are and will be the most vulnerable to drowning as they are pulled out of classes before they are proficient in the water (Picture: Ben Talintyre)

Primary school-age children are and will be the most vulnerable to drowning as they are pulled out of classes before they are proficient in the water (Picture: Ben Talintyre)

While there’s a lot of emphasis on getting children and babies into classes as early as possible, the swimming ability of elementary school-age children has always concerned me the most—and the data supports that view.

When children are first introduced to water during class, they are very reluctant to step into the water, aware of the inconvenience of swallowing water and unable to fully control their body movements, especially when they cannot touch the ground.

Even children who have completed several lessons can panic if they swallow water, get splashed, or their balance is disturbed by another child or an outside force.

These children are often full of confidence, but as soon as they lose control or something unexpected happens, they panic – then drowning ensues.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR CHILDREN SAFE IN THE WATER

– Always ensure they are supervised in and around the water

– Make sure your child can swim at least 50m unaided or make sure an adult who can is always within reach in the water

– Wear a life jacket when boating and fishing

– Take them to swimming lessons – enroll in your local swim school or in a holiday program during school holidays

– After use, empty all water sources such as bathtubs, buckets and inflatable pools

Babies are generally kept under a watchful eye by parents in and around the water, but as the child grows along with their confidence, parents pay less and less attention to what their children are doing in the water and sometimes even leave them completely unsupervised.

Children may have lessons for short periods in their early developmental years when the focus is on learning how to swim, hold your breath, and swim back to the edge.

However, these basics can all be forgotten if a child falls in, takes a sip of water and panics – which is why years of swimming lessons are essential.

As with any skill, your skill will regress if you don’t keep practicing it. Swimming is no different.

Just because your child knew the basics of surviving if they fell into a pool two years ago, or what to do if they got caught in a crack at the beach, doesn’t mean they could save themselves now.

Another problem is that although children learn to swim in a pool, when they grow up they may not necessarily be given the tools to handle ocean and river swimming.

Knowing how to avoid hazards like currents and rips usually requires years of swimming experience.

A good indicator of your child's ability to save themselves when they get into trouble in the water is whether they can swim 50 yards at a time. If the answer is no, then that is something that needs to be addressed

A good indicator of your child’s ability to save themselves when they get into trouble in the water is whether they can swim 50 yards at a time. If the answer is no, then that is something that needs to be addressed

A good indicator of your child’s ability to save themselves when they get into trouble in the water is whether they can swim 50 yards at a time. If the answer is no, then that is something that needs to be addressed

While 300,000 more children are now enrolled in swimming lessons than before the pandemic, the growth is among Australia’s recent and has seriously missed the seven to 12 year old age group.

Justin Scarr, Chief Executive Officer of Royal Life Saving, told Daily Mail Australia he was very scared for primary school aged children, especially considering many have not learned to swim during the pandemic.

“Recent data shows that swimming lessons have increased by 30 per cent, with most of the growth… being in the youngest group,” Mr Scarr said.

‘However, long-term research shows that children typically drop out between the ages of six and eight, and with the pandemic, the children who were five, six and seven years old didn’t learn to swim then and aren’t learning now.’

A lack of tuition and enrollment for primary school-age children has raised fears this age group will be entering their teenage years, unequipped for riskier swimming activities

A lack of tuition and enrollment for primary school-age children has raised fears this age group will be entering their teenage years, unequipped for riskier swimming activities

Justin Scarr, Chief Executive Officer of Royal Life Saving, told Daily Mail Australia he was very scared for primary school aged children, especially considering many have not learned to swim during the pandemic

Justin Scarr, Chief Executive Officer of Royal Life Saving, told Daily Mail Australia he was very scared for primary school aged children, especially considering many have not learned to swim during the pandemic

Mr Scarr believes it becomes more difficult to get children to school once they reach primary school age, as most children have two working parents, which limits weekday availability while their weekends are packed with other sports and commitments.

“Kids as young as eight are bombarded with soccer and netball registrations, parties and gatherings … Convincing parents to take these kids to class is difficult,” he said.

“I just urge parents to pay close attention to how their school-age children are doing in the water compared to their peers.

“Can your 7-12 year old swim at least 50 metres? If the answer is no, you need to go to the local pool and sign them up for classes.’

Given the lack of tuition for elementary school-age children, there are fears that they are entering their teens and 20s and will not be equipped for riskier swimming activities.

Mr Scarr echoed this sentiment and believes by 2030 when these children reach their teens, drowning statistics will worsen.

“The lesson is about keeping children safe this summer, but even more so for many summers to come, particularly as they approach the teenage years when they are most likely to enter the water without parental supervision,” Mr Scarr said.

“Data shows that teenagers are the least likely to camp near lifeguards and go to more remote locations.

“While we need to focus on the issue of impending drowning, we also need to consider the longer term that the seven-year-old who cannot swim today without intervention will be 15 years old in 2030 and very vulnerable to drowning.

The 2022 National Drowning Report showed a 36 percent increase in drowning among school-age children (ages five to 14) compared to the 10-year average

The 2022 National Drowning Report showed a 36 percent increase in drowning among school-age children (ages five to 14) compared to the 10-year average

“The importance of getting school-age children back in swimming and water safety programs cannot be overstated.”

The 2022 National Drowning Report showed a 36 percent increase in drowning among school-age children (ages five to 14) compared to the 10-year average.

Alarmingly, all age groups except children under five reported an increase in drowning deaths.

As of mid-January 2023, 39 drowning deaths had been reported in Australia that summer alone, according to Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll

As of mid-January 2023, 39 drowning deaths had been reported in Australia that summer alone, according to Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11642929/Ex-swimming-teacher-spike-drowning-deaths-summer-Australia-needs-done.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Ex-swimming instructor on soaring summer drowning deaths in Australia and what needs to be done

Emma Colton

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