The challenge 

Children under five are the age group most at risk of drowning, with an average of 23 deaths and 183 hospitalisations per year in Australia. Although parents are encouraged to supervise young children in and around water, a lapse in supervision is almost always a cause of drowning.

The solution 

UNSW School of Population Health injury prevention expert, Dr Amy Peden, in collaboration with Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, and James Cook University, examined 447 cases of fatal unintentional drowning among children under five between 2002 and 2017. Contrary to population belief, the research showed that indoor and outdoor household duties, as well as talking and socialising, are the most common distractions that lead to lapses in supervision that result in child drowning. Only one in 11 cases were due to electronic distractions, such as mobile phones, compared to household chores which were far more prevalent.

“The messaging central to our child drowning prevention education program, Keep Watch, hadn’t changed much in 30 years and this research helped deepen our understanding and hone our approaches. We shifted from communicating about momentary distractions, like a doorbell or phone call, to an evidence-informed approach focused on supervision gaps arising from the familiar household tasks like juggling bath or pool time with the chores of cooking, cleaning, or tending to other children.”

Justin Scarr, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Life Saving Society - Australia

The impact 

The Royal Life Saving Society – Australia has used the findings of this research to shape public education messaging in the national child drowning prevention program, Keep Watch. As a result, the program emphasises messages around overcoming everyday distractions when supervising children. The Keep Watch program messages are seen by tens of thousands of parents each year and are communicated online as well as through print, TV and radio promotion. The Keep Watch program and its child drowning prevention messages have been instrumental in halving child drowning rates in Australia in recent years.

Key people and partners

Lecturer - Injury Prevention Amy Peden
Lecturer - Injury Prevention
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