Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fence the house, supervise the children

Three toddler drownings in the past week in Queensland has prompted fresh urgings by drowning awareness group, Hannah’s Foundation, for governments to get tough on water safety campaigns.

Hannah’s Foundation founder, Andrew Plint, who lost his daughter to drowning in 2007, said that unlike funding for infrastructure and renewable energies, there is little funding for drowning prevention and awareness services because "there is no income derived from them.”

In most towns across Australia, swimming pools and aquatic centres provide weekly swimming and survival lessons for children. Unfortunately, at around $14 a pop, these lessons are seen as a luxury and privilege of the better off. As a mother in Australia, it is difficult to view water safety and survival as a luxury and this is definitely something that governments could look at subsidizing. If the City of Casey, in Victoria can invest in the environment by reimbursing parents for the purchase of cloth nappies over disposables, surely it can look at investing in a skill that will benefit children for life.

Of course, subsidizing swimming lessons and water survival courses does not create a safe play environment for children. Even adults who are strong swimmers can drown.

In 1992, the Pool Fencing Advisory Committee in NSW helped to ensure that fencing for backyard pools would become mandatory but there are no such laws for dams. It is true it would be almost impossible to fence 10, 20, 30 dams on a farm property, but it is not impossible to fence the house yard to create a safe environment for children to play. Nor is it unrealistic to expect that local governments fence the exposed lakes and dams they build among neighbourhoods, like the large lake at Wattle Grove in Western Sydney, a highly built-up area with a large proportion of young families.

But even adequate fencing has failed to prevent the deaths of some children whose best form of defense against a drowning end is close supervision by those charged with their care. According to some reports, over 70% of backyard drownings occur in fenced pools. And 60% of 4 year olds can climb a 1.2 metre high fence.

The most recent drowning accident in Queensland occurred when a 2 year old girl was playing outside while her father remained inside. He found her face down in the property’s dam 15 minutes after she went missing. Just days before, a 2 year old boy drowned in a cattle dip on his family’s property at Bundaberg. Dams are dangerous, even for adults and strong swimmers. Growing up, we were warned vociferously against approaching farm dams and were absolutely forbidden to enter them. Certainly a 2 year old might have difficulty with this kind of direction, but a 2 year old should not be out of sight of his guardian, most particularly in a yard that is within walking distance of a dam and not properly fenced.

Queensland’s Premier, Anna Bligh stated this week, "…it may well be time for us to have some discussions with rural producer groups and local governments about what, if anything, we can be doing to make sure that those dams are a little safer.” You think…

She continued, "The reality is that on-farm dams are often a very important part of the rural production that the farm is focused on, so you have to be very sensible and have something that's workable."

Jamie Cupples, executive director of Farmsafe Queensland had a workable and common-sense solution for parents this week, "Fence off your house or part of your yard. Keep your child contained in a secure play area coupled with supervision."

© Eva Whiteley 2010

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