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One in Five Aussie Kids Can’t Swim

One in Five Aussie Kids Can’t Swim
November 17, 2010

As many as one in five children will leave primary school this year not even having theskills to swim the length of an Olympic swimming pool according to Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA).

RLSSA Chief Executive Rob Bradley says the issue is of grave concern as potentially thousands of

Australian school children are leaving primary school with virtually no ability to swim and being unable to demonstrate the basic survival and water safety techniques that could save their lives in an emergency.

Latest figures show 5% of all drowning deaths were children aged 5 to 14 – 80% were male. Parents must be aware that rates of drowning rise rapidly once children gain independence and venture further from supervised swimming locations such as the local pool.

Royal Life Saving estimates that over 50,000 children aged 11-12 will leave primary school this year not even having the skills to swim the length of an Olympic swimming pool and warns that the issue has now become a “ticking time bomb” that will impact families and communities across the country in years to come, as well as putting further pressure on drowning rates.

Bradley (pictured below) says thousands of Australian school children are now going through primary schools learning little no or basic water safety skills, explaining that parents make a false assumption that secondary schools will fill this gap and that many children are falling between the cracks altogether because many secondary schools now don’t teach swimming, water safety and lifesaving as a skill.

Royal Life Saving warns children without basic swimming and water safety skills at Primary school age then become self conscious and find ways of avoiding water as they grow older.

This makes these children as teenagers highly vulnerable to peer pressure from friends encouraging them to take life threatening risks on, in or near water.

In response to this issue Royal Life Saving is calling for a greater focus on swimming and water safety skills highlighting that almost 15 million Australian children have completed its highly successful ‘Swim and Survive’ program since 1980, which it believes will need to increase this to one million children a year in response to the problem.

The Swim and Survive program is available through schools, at pools and is often used by government supported vacation water safety schemes.

The Royal Life Saving 2010 National Drowning Report reveals the number of drowning deaths is the highest number at any time in the past 7 years with 314 drowning deaths - an overall increase of 20% in two years.

The Royal Life Saving 2010 National Drowning Report shows 56 children aged under 17 years drowned in Australia in 2009/2010, 80% being male. Rob Bradley says the increase in drowning in school aged children is a huge wake up call to all Australians about the critical need for water safety education.

In the 5 to 14 year old category, 15 children drowned, accounting for 5% of all drowning deaths. 80% were male.

In the 10 to 14 year old category most swimming deaths happened in lakes, dams and lagoons (43%) or rivers, creeks or streams (43%). 86% of the deaths happened during summer.

Bradley explains “the number of child drowning deaths is unacceptably high, and it is a sign of worse to come if we don’t act quickly. Parents, schools and government need to make swimming and water safety education a priority. We have made tremendous progress since programs such as Royal Life Saving’s Swim and Survive were developed, but it is time that we focused on the children at risk of missing out.”

Bradley adds that children need more than just swimming skills, skills in survival techniques, water safety and an ability to carry out a basic rescue that includes vital skills in CPR is essential given the Australian lifestyle.

He continues “it’s all about education. It’s all about saving children’s lives. Royal Life Saving’s Swim and Survive program provides a pathway for children from 6 months to 14 years old. Starting that young is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a good idea to help parents to become more water aware and to understand how to help their children grow and understand the importance of water safety.

“Our focus now is ‘at risk’ communities which include those living in rural and remote areas, Indigenous communities and other groups who may need help in embracing the Australian culture of water safety.

“One of the emerging issues is that some schools find the costs of providing swimming lessons too expensive and complex, pool entry, bus fares all place pressure on schools and parents. The growth in private swimming centres and their reach to children prior to school is a fantastic thing, but it often means schools and parents assume this vital education happens elsewhere, and there there’s been a real drop off in children learning water safety and lifesaving skills. This has to be turned around before large sections of our community miss out on the skills that we all remember from our school days, swimming in clothes, diving for bricks, and learning the swimming survival strokes.”

Royal Life Saving is using funds raised to provide free lessons to financially disadvantaged children through the Swim and Survive Fund, a program that subsidises swimming and water safety lessons for those who would ordinarily miss out.

Royal Life Saving highlights that this will have a long term impact on lives, and an urgent debate on this issue is needed. It’s not only vital parents enrol children in a swimming and water safety program such as Swim and Survive so they are better protected and prepared, but as a nation we must recognise swimming , water safety and lifesaving skills as a core part of our wellbeing. They are skills for life.

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