Childhood Drowning

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Drowning Of Children 0 – 5 Years Of Age: Preventable Or Inevitable?

Injury is a significant cause of illness, hospitalisation, disability and death in Australian children and adolescents. This research based report by first year nursing student, Karla McCulloch, aims to promote awareness and educate nursing students and colleagues, as well as the general public and parents, on unintentional injury. In particular, it will focus on drowning in children from birth to 5 years of age. The report will discuss the definition of what constitutes a drowning, look at patterns of drowning, facts and statistics on drowning and the main factors that contribute to drowning in children. It will also look at what action can be implemented to minimise the risk of drowning for this age group.

“The inquisitive, exploratory nature of children and young children means that injuries and accidents are common.” (Barnes and Rowe, 2008, p. 136) Water touches every aspect of children’s lives. It provides nourishment, cleanliness and comfort among other benefits and is a necessity for survival (World Health Organisation 2008)

As adopted by the 2002 World Congress on Drowning, drowning can be defined as: “The process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.” (World Health Organisation 2008)

Drowning affects people of all ages but among the various age groups, children under 5 years of age have the highest drowning mortality rates worldwide. (World Health Organisation 2000) An international comparison of drowning rates indicates that Australia has the second worst record in the world for toddler drowning. (Kidsafe WA 2005)

Drowning is the most common cause of accidental death in Australian children aged less than 5 years, and 70% are aged between 1 and 3 years. (Kidsafe SA 2004) Studies show that for every child under the age of 5 years that drowns in Australia, up to 10 children are admitted to hospital as the result of a near-drowning incident. The near drowning- of a child is “the result of a submersion, where the child has been immersed in water”. (Kidsafe SA 2004)

In Australia in 2007/2008, 27 drowning deaths were recorded in young children aged between 0-4 years of age. The majority of drowning deaths of children in this age group was the consequence of falling or wandering into the water, with the swimming pool accounting for the largest portion of these deaths. (Royal Life Saving Society Australia 2008b)

In 2004, the overwhelming majority (approximately 97%) of child drowning deaths occurred in low-income and middle-income countries. This is possibly due to lack of education and differences in opportunities to learn to swim. (World Health Organisation 2008)

Children have a natural attraction to water. They often have minimal fear and little to no understanding or awareness of the danger associated with it. (Kidsafe WA 2005) There is no evidence of a decisive reason as to why children of this age are at risk of drowning, but developmental stage, lack of supervision and inadequate safety standards may be contributing factors. (Royal Life Saving Society Australia 2008a)

The risks and circumstances with childhood drowning are often related to the developmental stage of the child. (World Health Organisation 2008) Infants and toddlers have limited strength, judgement and physical co-ordination. They generally do not have the co-ordination required to swim and breathe simultaneously. (Royal Life Saving Society Australia 2008b). Children within this age group are also susceptible to drowning as they can fall easily into water as their heads are heavier than the rest of their body (Kidsafe WA 2005)

There is a lack of evidence to imply that a child under the age of three years can develop sufficient swimming skills to prevent drowning. Whilst water familiarisation skills are important, they will not make a child drown-proof (Kidsafe WA 2005)

Studies reveal that drowning in young...
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