Danielle McDonald with her 1 year old son Max during his first swimming lesson at Kokoda Memorial Pool. Picture: Shae Beplate.
Danielle McDonald with her 1 year old son Max during his first swimming lesson at Kokoda Memorial Pool. Picture: Shae Beplate.

QLD babies three times more likely to drown

OUR babies are drowning more than any other state, with research revealing the risk triples at age one.

Queensland now holds the unfortunate record of the highest number of young children drowning than any other state or territory.

Townsville mum Danielle McDonald has been taking her two boys Harrison, four and Max, one to swimming lessons since they were babies.

She said swim safety was something that often played on her mind.

"It's just about being able to play in the pool safely and go on holidays and swim," Mrs McDonald said.

"We have a pool at home so our main reason for doing swimming lessons is so they can be confident and know how to save themselves if they do fall or something happens.

"Harrison can open the pool fence if he wants to which just shows it's not as secure as parents think it is, so you just have to be prepared and always watching them as well.

More than four in 10 drowning deaths in children aged under five, occur in children aged one with the Australian Bureau of Statistics listing it as the number one cause of death in one-year-olds.

Townsville's Love2Swim teacher Sharon Mulligan said the stark figures highlighted the importance of swimming lessons, especially during early childhood.

"Children need to be able to know how react in these (drowning) scenarios before they're met with it so that the end of every term we do safety scenarios for children," Mrs Mulligan said.

"At that age (toddlers) it is very much becoming a habit whereas with the parents they can carry it on outside of the lessons and taking those skills to implement outside the pool."

Mrs Mulligan has nearly 20 years of swim teacher experience working in New Zealand and remote communities in outback Australia.

She said she wasn't surprised to learn people from multicultural, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and low socio-economic backgrounds, as well as those living in remote areas, remain at greater risk of drowning.

The Royal Life Saving report revealed rivers accounted for 29 per cent of all drowning deaths, more than any other location.

"My passion really is for the remote children because they don't have the access to lessons but they're surrounded by dams and creeks everywhere," Mrs Mulligan said.

"There's been so many horror stories where a child goes missing and they're found face down in a water tank or dam and it happens so quickly."
Over the past 17 years, 496 children aged 0 to four years drowned. Of these, 202 (41 per cent) were children aged one year.
Over an entire lifespan, from 0 to 100 years, no other age is at greater risk of drowning.

In an Australian first, the Queensland became the first state to introduce a water swim safety program with $3.68 million committed annually - an increase of $2.18 million per year - to expand swim programs, and comply with national standards set by the Australian Water Safety Council.

From the beginning of 2019, it became a requirement for all Queensland state schools to offer a water safety and swimming program from Pre to Year 6, however its not compulsory for students to participate.

The program also included a new $150,000 swimming and water safety grant funding program for schools.

Belgian Gardens State School offers a total of 10 swimming lessons annually to students in Years 1-4.

Principal Ryan Pedley said without access to the government grant it would be impossible for a school of its size to find enough money in the budget to fully fund the lessons.

"It would be a matter of consulting with families and finding ways to avoid putting the cost back on them but even then it wouldn't be completely avoidable,"

"The grant helps us with the cost of the lessons as well as transport to and from the pool."

Mr Pedley said he would support a government subsidy given directly to parents to do lessons privately.

"I'm a parent as well and I think it would be welcomed by all parents because the safer we can make our children the better," he said.

"Especially for families that find it hard to afford swimming lessons because we're pretty much surrounded by water here (North Queensland)."

In the last year, the sunshine state recorded an overall increase of drownings, with 64 people losing their lives in the water. And if you're a male the risk is even higher.

With more and more people flocking to the beach to cool off during summer, parents are being reminded to keep their eyes off their phones and focused on their children.

Surf Life Saving Queensland Townsville lifeguard supervisor Russell Blanchard said lifeguards are increasingly expected to play the role of babysitters.

"Lifeguards and lifesavers are there to do a job and patrol the beaches but you can imagine when there's hundreds of people they can't be watching everyone,"

"We're not there to be babysitters and as we know it doesn't take long and they're (kids) underwater straight away and that's why constant supervision within arm's length is the key."

Mr Blanchard said no one wants to be involved with a water rescue unnecessarily.

"It's confronting and it's never a nice experience regardless of the age of the person involved, we might be trained for it but it's never a skill you want to have to use," he said.

"And you can just imagine how traumatic that would be for those parents." 

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