New Zealand's annual drowning toll is one of the worst in the developed world.
According to Water Safety New Zealand, the latest available drowning statistics show that 14 preschoolers died as a result of drowning in 2011, this is the highest number since 2002 and double the amount of deaths from the previous year.
While it may seem unfathomable that it could happen to your family, Tauranga mum Vanessa Hennessey is proof it can happen to the most diligent of parents.
Almost two years ago, Hennessey, her husband and four children were at the Mount Maunganui Hot Saltwater Pools with five other adults and two other children.
The adults were all keeping an eye on the children. One minute Hennessey's daughter Hanya, then four-years-old was up to her chin in water and the next she had slipped under.
A 10-year-old boy found the toddler under water and dragged her up.
"I turned around and Steve, by that stage, had Hanya and she was coughing," Hennessey explains.
"The assumption I had made was, because we had all these extra adults with us that didn't have kids with them, I thought someone could see I was full-on with one child on each hip and someone would watch out for Hanya."
Hanya spent two nights at Tauranga Hospital and has made a full recovery, but Hennessy says they haven't been back to those particular pools since.
"Hanya is doing swimming lessons and I am a lot more diligent in water now, to make sure that everyone is accounted for," she told Essential Mums.
Hennessey advises other parents to always make sure that those supervising the kids are in arms reach and if you are supervising and have to pop to the loo, make sure someone is there is to take over.
Swimming lessons are important to the family and Hennessey has subsequently become a swimming instructor.
"When she came out of hospital, she asked if she could go for a swim - I couldn't believe it!" she says.
"I say to myself if we are running low on money - I would rather the kids not do soccer, or not do sport than miss out on swimming lessons because it is so vital. Since then I have had another baby, so with five kids, they all need to be water safe - for my own sanity."
In addition to the dangers of drowning in the pool, Hennessy says parents need to be aware of the dangers of secondary drowning.
Secondary drowning occurs when water, or other fluids, enter the lungs but the person may be conscious and not fully aware of what has occurred.
This also sometimes happens with a near drowning victim, when they have inhaled fluids before being pulled out the water.
If this happens to your child, it is vital they get medical attention as quickly as possible.
As the name implies, the person can drown even several hours later as the fluid in the lungs impairs their breathing.
Water also will damage the inside surface of the lung, collapse the alveoli and cause a hardening of the lungs which will reduce the ability to exchange air.
In Hanya's case, she had to spend a night in the intensive care unit on oxygen.
"We had thought she was probably okay and was coughing it up and in all honesty, I probably would have just taken her home. But the doctors said on a scale of one to 10, 10 being dead, she was an eight," says Hennessey.
"It was more of a shock that we could have just taken her home and she could have been in a really bad situation. I would warn parents who don't know about secondary drowning to take their child to a doctor, especially if you didn't see what happened when they went under the water."
The stats don't lie
According to Water Safety New Zealand, drownings are consistently the third highest cause of unintentional death in New Zealand, surpassed only by road vehicle crashes and accidental falls.
Last year 131 people drowned in New Zealand. Auckland had the highest number of drownings at 30, Canterbury was second with 13 and Wellington third with six.
Beaches were the most dangerous environment in 2011 with 29 fatalities. The number of drownings in rivers decreased by 16 per cent, but drownings in home pools, inland still waters, and public pools all increased.
In the case of public pools this increase was a whopping 200 per cent.
The holiday months of January, February, April and December had the highest number of fatalities.
In addition, only one in five 10-year-olds in New Zealand can swim 200 meters - the bench-mark for being able to swim and survive.
This means 80 per cent of all 10-year-olds can't swim well enough to save themselves.
Water safety tips
Water is hazardous for young children no matter where you find it: in a bucket, bowl, toilet, tub, sink, puddle or pool. Parents can avoid tragedy by taking this old adage to heart: A child can drown in less than an inch of water.
The best way to protect your child from accidental drowning is to remove even the smallest source of water from play areas, and if water is present, don't take your eyes off them for a minute.
- If you have a plastic wading pool, drain it and store it in an upright position after each use. If you have a permanent pool, make sure it's enclosed with a fence that complies with regulations, and lock gates leading to the pool after each use. After swimming, remove any toys from the water and deck.
- Make sure you have a phone handy for emergences. Take a mobile or portable phone to the pool in case of emergency and so you won't be tempted to run into the house to grab a call.
- Consider taking a child CPR course
- Don't leave babies and young children alone in the bathtub or a swimming or wading pool. If a baby slips or rolls and lands facedown, he or she may not be able to turn over. Bathing seats or flotation devices don't protect against drowning and aren't a substitute for your attention.
- Don't leave babies and young children alone around filled buckets. Empty buckets after each use, and keep them out of children's reach. Buckets have tall, straight sides, which make it very hard for infants and young children to escape if they have fallen in.
- Leave toilet lids down. Keep young children out of the bathroom without your direct supervision. Make sure your toddler knows that the toilet isn't a toy. Toilets are drowning hazards, especially for children younger than three. An older baby or young child can fall headfirst into the water and not be able to climb back out. Consider placing a latch on the bathroom door, out of reach of young children.
- Empty all liquid containers immediately after use. Keep all empty containers out of reach of young children and babies. Don't leave empty containers in the garden or around the house. They can accumulate water and become a drowning hazard.
- Watch children closely outdoors, especially where wells, irrigation or drainage ditches are nearby. Fill holes and install fences or other barriers to protect your child. Make sure pools are fenced off and have covers that lock. Don't let a child out of your sight while you are doing yard work or other outdoor activities.
- Never let your child swim in any fast-moving water.
If they go under
When a child is in the water, it's extremely important not to leave him unattended, even for a second. If he slips under water for a moment while playing in the pool, it's likely he'll come up coughing and sputtering. If he's been under water for longer, you'll need to move calmly and quickly. Follow these steps:
- Lift your child out of the water.
- Carry him with his head lower than his chest.
- Remove any wet clothing and wrap him in a dry, warm towel or blanket.
- Call 111 or take your child to the nearest emergency room immediately. (Even if he appears fully recovered, he may have inhaled water, which could cause lung damage.)
- If he's unconscious, assess his condition, breathing, and pulse. If he's not breathing, open his airway and begin mouth-to-mouth and nose resuscitation. If he has no pulse or breathing, begin CPR.
Teach swimming safety
Children need to learn to swim. You can help prevent drowning incidents by teaching your children basic safety rules and swimming skills:
- Teach your children four key swimming rules:
- Always swim with a buddy.
- Don't dive into unknown bodies of water. Jump feet first.
- Don't push or jump on others while in the water.
- Be prepared for an emergency. Instruct children on getting help from an adult or calling 111.
- Don't let your child use inflatable swimming aids (such as "water wings") without constant supervision. They can deflate, or a child can slip out of them. Also, children can develop habits using these devices that can put them at risk for drowning. For example, a child who frequently uses water wings may learn to jump into a pool on impulse. He or she may do so while not wearing the devices, before having a chance to think about it.
- As a parent, learn to swim if you don't already know how. Also, learn swimming survival and rescue techniques.
- If you enrol your child in swimming lessons, remember that swimming lessons won't necessarily prevent drowning. Be sure that your child swims only when a watchful adult is present.
- When visiting public or private pools, make sure that your children are supervised closely and that they are familiar with pool safety rules.
- © Fairfax NZ News