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The backyard tragedies that have cost us 500 little lives in two decades


More than 500 toddlers aged under four years old have died from drowning in Australia in the past 19 years, with two in every five of the children who drown aged just 12 months.

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New research released today by Royal Life Saving to kickstart a summer ‘Keep Watch’ campaign shows 52 per cent of the drownings were in swimming pools, with accidental falls into water the most common cause of drowning among the 532 child fatalities.

The figures, compiled from the past two decades of National Drowning Reports, show Queensland with 177 drownings had the highest rate of any state or territory in the under four age group.

Of the 177 drowning deaths in Queensland, 34 per cent were one-year-olds. Almost half of the drownings were in swimming pools, and 77 per cent were children who fell into the water.

If the drowning figures weren’t shocking enough, the national figures also show that for every fatal drowning in this age group, eight more children were admitted to hospital following a non-fatal drowning.

Royal Life Saving Society CEO Justin Scarr said the risk of drowning tripled once a child started to crawl.
“Children are curious about their surroundings, which means parents and carers cannot afford to be complacent around the water,” Scarr said.

He said adults needed to remain vigilant to prevent death or injury, with the average hospital stay after a non-fatal drowning children lasting 1.5 days, and some children sustaining lifelong brain injuries following the trauma.

“Children who suffer a non-fatal drowning may experience long-term health complications or life-changing injuries,” Scarr said. “This is devastating for families.”

“This year has been challenging for parents, in many cases families have tried to juggle working and schooling from home. We are worried this could lead to distractions and lapses in adult supervision.”

The latest annual drowning statistics report, released in September, showed a total of 294 people drowned across the country in the past 12 months, including 66 in Queensland.

The combined Royal Life Saving Society and Surf Life Saving Australia figures showed a 20 per cent jump in drownings compared to last year.

Of Queensland drowning deaths, 10 were on the Gold Coast, five at the Sunshine Coast, and four each at Port Douglas and Noosa.

Those figures showed that nationally, there were 25 drowning deaths among children aged below four years, which was a 108 per cent increase on last year.



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