real life

Why are so many Australian children still dying like this?

I was six years old when my baby brother almost drowned. We were boarding a friend's boat that was moored on a rickety old jetty. I was already on board, and my parents were walking along the uneven wooden planks in the dark. My mother came first, carrying my baby brother, a precious bundle only ten days old. As she turned around and handed her newborn over to my Dad so she could climb aboard, Dad stepped backwards slightly only to have his foot crash through a rotten plank. Horror-struck, I watched my baby brother fly through the air and land in the middle of  the creek.

The tide was slack and the tidal waters still, which probably saved his life. Both my parents jumped into the water at once, and reached under simultaneously, grappling blindly, convulsively, for their baby. From out of the muddy waters they found him and hauled him out, while I screamed non-stop from the boat. My baby brother survived - in fact, that little muddy bundle hardly even blinked.

The rest of my family were completely traumatised but a trip to the Mater Children’s Hospital allayed any further fears for his safety. It was a moment in time that I will never forget. And neither will my parents. Now that I'm a mum, water safety has always been a priority for my family. Our children have been able to float on their back from the age of six months. We've spent thousands of dollars on swimming lessons and at the ages of four and six, they no longer need floaties to swim. So while we no longer have to be IN the water at the same time as our children, we know enough about the dangers to know one of us still needs to be NEXT to them while they're swimming. ALL THE TIME. That means no distractions, fully focused and sober. The pool gate still needs to stay closed all the time. The rules of the pool (no running, diving etc) need to be adhered to with strict consequences if they're broken.

Too often children are put at risk when parents let their guards down. We've all done it.  The phone rings inside, the dinner burns, the doorbell chimes, maybe just one more glass of wine. You quickly duck away, they'll be fine for a couple of minutes... until the time they aren't.

When iVillage asked parents to share their experiences, one grieving mother on Facebook ...

"Her shoe lace got caught on the bicycle pedal as she cycled around the pool, and even though she could swim, she fell into the pool with the bike on top of her and she couldn't get out. By the time help came, it was too late."

Another mum wrote ...

"I'd sent the children downstairs to play in the garden while I finished some work, telling them we'd all go for a swim when I was done. I heard them playing on the trampoline and kicking the ball around. The next significant noise I heard was a splash. I was downstairs and at the pool in less than 3 seconds, only to find my four-year-old daughter jumping out of the pool, guilty that she'd been caught out. My six-year-old son who should-have-known-better was sitting on the stool they'd taken from the kitchen to stand on and open the pool gate. Even though they knew the rules, being the ages they are, they acted on impulse with the only rational thought in their mind being that they were invincible. "If you'd slipped and bumped your head," I ranted at her for the rest of the day, "you'd have drowned with no adult to save you." Kids can open child-safety gates – all they need is a chair and the will to do it."

Chelsea wrote ...

My son was 18 months old when he nearly drowned in Fiji, whilst right next to Dad. He refused to wear floaties and had a major melt-down, so Dad decided to sit right next to him. People came and started talking to Dad, so his head was turned away from my son, even though he was on the same step. When I finished doing laps, I asked where my child was and there he was on the bottom of the pool... it was so silent. He just slipped off the steps and went under, no splashing, no struggling, no noise. He just went under and couldn't get himself up. Another minute and he would have been a goner.

These stories are chilling. My husband and I feel like we've taken all the proper precautions but so did these parents. We have a safety fence around our small pool. The City Council inspector signed it off a few months ago and we feel that our children can play safely both inside and outside the house.

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For the last 30 years, drowning and motor vehicle accidents continue to be identified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as the greatest causes of accidental death in children in Australia.

Despite massive public water safety campaigns, 50 000 children leave primary school each year unable to swim. Despite strict rules for Pool fencing, children still drown in home pools, in dams and in waterways.

Despite intensive Surf Life Saving campaigns, children still swim outside the flags and get caught in rips. And the risk isn't just in pools. When was the last time your child did one of these activities: dangerous activities: * Had a bath; * Swam in the ocean; * Played next to a dam; * Swam in a friend's pool;* Sat in a spa; * Sailed on a boat. Last year 31 children died in baths, spas, pools and waterways. 81 per cent of the children who drowned last year were killed as a result of falling into water. When a child falls into the water, there's usually no scream, no struggle. It's silent, expect for a small splash If you follow these simple rules as closely as you can, knowing that if you don't, the consequences will change your life forever, then you're most of the way there.

Always keep these safety tips in mind around water: 

1.  NEVER leave your children unattended in water: pools, baths, spas, dams, creeks, the ocean.

2. NEVER leave your children unattended NEAR water.

3. Teach your children how to float on their backs.

4. Teach them how to swim.

5. Teach them to swim between the flags at beaches.

6. Put life jackets on them whenever they're on deck on a boat.

7. Fence your pools.

8. Fence a safe area to play for children on larger properties with dams.

9. Learn CPR and first aid.

10. Teach your kids basic first aid.

11. Do a head count and keep on counting every few minutes.

What water safety measures does your family follow ?

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