If you’re at a party and the kids are swimming, you should do no less than designating a ‘Water Watcher’—and give them a hat or lanyard for the job.
That’s the message of the Australian Swim Schools Assocation’s after the NSW drowning tally this summer holidays reached a tragic 22 people.
David du Bois spoke to Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe this week, urging parents to enrol their children in swimming classes and be more vigilant at social events near water.
“Children can drown without a sound at a party surrounded by people, and it’s important an adult is designated to watch, and do only that,” he said.
“It may help to actually call them a ‘water watcher’ and have something they wear, like a hat or a lanyard, that makes it official. They have the primary responsibility of watching the water, and the children in and around it. They are looking to prevent anything from happening, and if it does, to take action quickly.”
With 280 people have drowned in Australia in the past year according to Royal Life Saving’s National Drowning Report, David said the responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“The idea is to avoid anything distracting, like drinking, talking to others, using their phone. They are focussed on watching the water.”
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Bite the Bullet and Enrol Your Kids in Swim Classes
Statistics around Australian kids’ swimming capabilities are troubling. According to a Royal Life Saving Society of Australia report, around 50,000 Aussie kids leave primary school every year unable to swim. That’s one in five children. The measure for swimming ability, is successfully swimming a distance 50m and treading water for two minutes.
Reasons for the poor rates of swimming ability include financial hardship of parents, inability to access pools, and cultural backgrounds with less awareness of swimming and water safety. In a bid to change the statistics, parents are being urged to enrol their kids in swimming classes.
“One term of school swim classes aren’t enough to establish the skills. It needs to start well before primary school.”
“Sometimes people think it can’t happen to them, their family and their children, but it can,” David said.
“The drowning risk increases with younger children, with a particularly high spike in the 1-to-4-year-old age range, and especially with boys. Swimming classes need to start well before they reach primary school.”
Calls for government rebates for swimming lessons and compulsory swimming lessons in primary school are good suggestions for reducing the drowning rate, says David, “but we have to be careful to not look at that as a complete solution.”
“Anything that gets kids in the water swimming is a positive step,” he said. “But it’s not enough to establish the skills needed to make a difference.”
Are Swimming Classes Effective?
Many parents feel frustrated that swimming lessons are expensive and progress is slow, but the facts are, they work.
“Research has shown that children enrolled in formal swimming lessons have reduced their drowning risk by as much as 88 percent,” said David.
But patience is important.
“It’s reasonable to expect progress, to see skills achieved…but it does take time,” David said. “There should be open communication with the swim school and the parent about what the child is learning and what’s realistic to achieve. And with young children, it’s important to maintain a year-round approach with consistent reinforcement of skills.”
Keep Kids SAFER with These Five Keys
The Australian Swim School Association uses the acronym SAFER as a reminder of the key components of water safety:
S – Swimming skills
A – Adult supervision
F – Fences and gates
E – Emergency plan (check the pool first, learn CPR and have a plan)
R – Reduce the risk