A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia reports that inadequate supervision has led to more than 70 per cent of fatal child drownings across Australia.
Researchers from the University of Ballarat used the National Coroners Information System (NCIS) database to investigate accidental drowning deaths of children aged 0-14 years between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 2009.
AdvertisementOf the 339 deaths in that period, supervision was ruled out as a factor in only 29 cases (8.5 per cent), which were the result of events such as cars being swept off the road during flash flooding or boats overturning in rough conditions.
"Supervision was identified as a contributing factor in almost three-quarters (71.7 per cent) of all unintentional cases of child drowning, although the level of explicit identification of supervision varied across age groups," lead researcher Ms Lauren Petrass said.
"Indeed, with deeper interrogation of coroners' findings, absent or inadequate supervision might be associated with as many as 88.8 per cent of child drownings, because in 58 cases (17.1 per cent), inadequate detail was provided in text documents to determine whether supervision was a contributing factor."
Police reports ranged in length from one line to two pages, with some stating only that the child was missing and later found in the pool.
"Lack of detail within reports, or missing documents, restricts the ability to fully understand incident circumstances and assess the role of supervision in the drowning death," Ms Petrass said.
"These factors limit the ability to target, design, implement and evaluate national child drowning prevention strategies."
More detailed records and more recommendations by coroners could help spread the message about the need to watch children near water.
"Explicit references by coroners to the importance of supervision in preventing child drowning, along with increased media publicity about coroners' findings, may contribute to improved caregiver supervision of children in aquatic settings," Ms Petrass said.
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.
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