Leisa Hart, YMCA NSW CEO opinion, Sydney Morning Herald
The unprecedented number of drownings over this Christmas holiday period is a wake-up call to the federal government to make a national water safety education program for our children an urgent priority. In this water-worshipping nation, with our countless beaches and ubiquitous backyard pools, it is unbelievable that many children will never have early exposure to water safety education. There simply aren't any nationally recognised or mandated programs for children under four, and swimming lessons aren't mandatory. Yes, parents and carers certainly have a responsibility to ensure children are safe around water. But the reality is that for many families, swimming lessons are not accessible due to cost or locality.
Holiday period drownings have reached 18 (January 3, 2016 in Australia).
Astonishingly, it's thought that three out of five Australian children leave primary school without basic swimming skills. This means that more than half of all Australian 12-year-olds don't have any training to draw upon to save their lives if they come into danger in the water.
Organisations like the YMCA, a not-for-profit that's one of the largest providers of swimming lessons across NSW, can only reach kids who live where we provide aquatic education programs, and whose parents have the time and the means to send them to regular lessons.
Currently across Australia there are a variety of water safety regulations and swimming courses, but they are not nationally standardised. Several of our states and territories do not have legal requirements regarding water safety courses and the provision of swimming lessons. This needs to change.
We simply can't waste any more time debating whether this issue deserves a piece of the government funding pie. The tragedy of these recent drowning deaths have shown that we must act now. For many families, swimming lessons are not accessible due to cost or locality.
The solution doesn't rest with just one organisation, one strategy, or one government, as a 2014 report on drowning by the World Health Organisation recognised. We know this has to be a multi-organisational approach, encompassing schools, government departments, community health centres, swimming lesson providers, community welfare programs, the Royal Life Saving Society Australia, Surf Life Saving Australia, AUSTSWIM and others.
The YMCA NSW is advocating to bring these key players together and create a nationally regulated scheme that will ensure every single child has access to water education.
We need to work together and we need the federal government to make this happen. So let's add swimming to the school curriculum. Let's make swimming lessons a reality for all toddlers and preschoolers. All Australian kids, regardless of their background, address or means, deserve the skills to survive.
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