Lack of supervision a factor in 70% of child drowning deaths

Recently published research highlights role of inadequate supervision in Australian child drowning

Recently published research by Ms Lauren Petrass  (Phd Scholar) and co-authors from the University of Ballarat, has found that a lack of adequate supervision was a contributing factor in more than 70% of child drowning deaths across Australia.

The article entitled “Lack of caregiver supervision: a contributing factor in Australian unintentional child drowning deaths, 2000-2009″, which is soon to be published in the Medical Journal of Australia, used the National Coroners Information System (NCIS) databases to investigate the drowning deaths of Australian children aged 0-14 years between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 3009.

Over this period, a total of 339 deaths occurred, with supervision being ruled out as a factor in only 8.5% of cases (29 deaths). These deaths were as a 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”, Ms Petrass said.

This number is likely to be even higher as not enough information was included in coronial documents to determine whether supervision was a factor in almost one in five deaths. Ms Petrass says “indeed, with deeper interrogation of coroners’ findings, absent or inadequate supervision might be associated with as many as 88.8% of child drownings, because in 58 cases (17.1%), inadequate details was provided in text documents to determine whether supervision was a contributing factor”.

The research recommends the need to improve the standard and consistency of information contained in the death reports within the NCIS as a means of providing more useful information for preventing child drowning deaths.

Ms Petrass also says more recommendations by coroners and increased media publicity about coroner’s findings may contribute to improved caregiver supervision of children in aquatic settings.

This research will form one of many presentations on emerging themes and research at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2011 to be held in Danang, Vietnam from May 10-13th.

This article will appear in Volume 194, Number 5, pages 228-231 of the Medical Journal of Australia. The full article can be read on the following

Amy Peden, RLSSA Project Manager – Policy