About toddler drowning

Toddler drowning facts

  • 40 toddlers fatally drowned in Western Australia in the decade between 2003 and 2013.
  • Two out of three children who drown are boys.
  • In two-thirds of toddler drowning deaths the child was aged between 12 and 24 months old.
  • For every drowning death 10 children will be admitted to hospital. A number of these children will be left with some long-term impairment as a consequence of drowning.
  • In WA, approximately 40% of toddler drowning deaths occur in swimming pools.
  • Bath tubs are the second most common place for drowning to occur. Inflatable paddle pools, buckets, fishponds, dams and even pet water bowls are all potential drowning hazards.
  • Drowning is a risk for toddlers all year round, not just in summer.

Why are toddlers at risk of drowning?

There are a number of factors contributing to toddler drowning which fall broadly into three categories. Usually it is a combination of these factors that will lead to a drowning.

Parent

  • Young children are dependent on adults to keep them safe around water.
  • Lack of adult supervision is the most influential factor in toddler drowning.
  • There may also be confusion over supervision responsibility, particularly during parties, barbecues and picnics. In a backyard full of adults it is easy to assume that ‘someone’ is keeping an eye on the pool. In reality, this can mean that no one is adequately supervising young children. A few minutes of distraction can be enough for a toddler to slip under water.

Child

  • Toddlers are naturally curious and are attracted to water but cannot understand the dangers of falling in.
  • Young children tend to be top heavy and will often topple forward if they lean over to look into water or reach for an object in water.
  • Toddlers usually lack the physical coordination and cognitive ability to apply their swimming skills in an emergency situation.
  • Drowning is a silent event. Children don’t tend to cry out for help or thrash about in the water. They can swallow water, sink and lose consciousness in less than one minute.

Environment

The primary environmental factor leading to drowning is having no barrier between the child and water or the barrier being faulty in some way. Some of the common issues that arise with pool barriers are:

  • Gate is left propped open while people enter and exit the pool area.
  • Gate is not self-closing or self-latching so children can easily pull it open.
  • Fencing is loose or broken, creating gaps that children can slip through.
  • Climbable objects such as trees or furniture are nearby.

Other environmental factors could be the design or placement of a pool, fishpond or other outdoor water source. These areas should all be readily visible in the backyard and easy for parents to access in the event of an emergency. Tempting objects such as toys can entice children to enter the water and should always be removed immediately after use.

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