“I thought drowning would be frantic but it was quiet and quick”

Replying to a text message, answering the door, applying sunscreen or even grabbing a towel are tasks that only take a few minutes to do but in these minutes of distraction, a child can drown.

In November 2017, four-year-old Micah and his parents were on holidays at a holiday park. When Micah and his father got to the outdoor pool, his dad noticed some friends and decided to say hello. After being distracted only for a few minutes, Micah’s father found him floating in the pool, face down. Micah’s father immediately jumped in and pulled him out. Micah initially wasn’t breathing or responding but after an attempt at CPR, he vomited water and regained consciousness. He was then taken to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead for further check-up.

“I always thought drowning would be frantic – with the child screaming and shouting like what you see in movies, but in fact it was very quiet and quick,” said Micah’s mother, Sherin.

Fortunately, Micah is one of the lucky ones. In NSW, drowning is a leading cause of death for children under five years of age, with an average of 10 drowning deaths occurring each year and many more non-fatal drownings. The paediatric experts across the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network are warning parents and carers against the common misconception that drowning is loud and obvious.

Department Head of Kids Health Child Health Promotion Unit, Sue Wicks, emphasises that parents and carers should be active in supervising children in and around water.

“Drowning is very quick and silent. Most parents and carers think they will hear if a child is drowning but this simply isn’t true. There’s no splashing, shouting or sound so it’s really important that parents and carers do not allow any distractions around them and to remain within arm’s reach of children when in or around water” she said.

The NSW Study of Drowning and Near-Drowning in Children (0-16) 2015-2018 conducted by the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network discovered that “a common factor for children not being supervised was that the carer was distracted by an everyday task, like looking after another child, grabbing a towel or looking at their mobile phone,'' said Sue Wicks.

The importance of adult carers learning how to swim and how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was also confirmed in the study.

Dr Donovan Dwyer, Emergency Specialist and Director of Trauma at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick said, “In an emergency, effective and early CPR can be the difference between life and death. It is most often a family member who finds the child in a drowning incident, so every parent and carer needs to know the lifesaving skills of CPR.”

Follow these four top water safety tips:

  1. Supervise: Be with children at all times when they are in or around water, with no distractions.
  2. Restrict access: Make sure your pool fence and gate is working properly and there’s nothing close by that children can climb on. Never purposely leave the gate open. Empty baths, buckets, inflatable or portable pools and other sources of water after use.
  3. Teach water awareness: Familiarise children with water and teach them to swim, but don’t rely on it to keep them safe. It’s also important for adults to learn to swim.
  4. Learn how to resuscitate: Learn resuscitation (CPR) in case of an emergency. Remember any attempt is better than no attempt.

There is a free online CPR and first aid training available here. For more information on keeping children safe around water and to do free online CPR training, visit the Kids Health website.