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Royal Life Saving hosts National Swimming and Water Safety Education Symposium

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18/04/2017

Royal Life Saving has been committed to swimming and water safety education since it was formed in Australia in 1894. We are not alone, with so many organisations, government agencies and community members contributing their effort and energy to ensuring children have the skills to safely enjoy our amazing waterways.

As part of our work towards making our nation free from drowning, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia are convening the National Swimming and Water Safety Education Symposium in Sydney from 19-20 April 2017.

48 attendees from across the industry, including representatives of State and Territory Government(s) programs, National Organisations, major providers and members of the research community will come together at the symposium to review and consider a range of issues related to the Australian Water Safety Strategy (AWSS) Goal 1 – Reduce Drowning deaths in Children Aged 0-14 years.

Swimming and water safety lessons are more important than ever before.

Today’s children start swimming lessons at a younger age, swim more often, more efficiently and for longer distances, than those of past generations. Parents play the biggest role, often ‘happily’ spending the family budget on private lessons for their children, starting as babies, through the preschool years and into primary school.

Unfortunately, many children miss out entirely or are unable to achieve recognised benchmarks because of the barriers of cost, access or cultural awareness.

Strong swimming abilities develop when access to private lessons is high, but they are often out of reach of those at greatest risk, including children in regional and remote areas, and from indigenous, refugee, and migrant communities.

As a safety net, the primary school years are critical to ensuring all children are able to swim and develop protective lifesaving skills before adulthood when drowning risk increases. There is substantial variation in State and Territory Government investments in school or vacation programs, with many such programs under pressure.

Increasing density and diversity in our cities is putting growing pressure on Local Governments who manage ageing pools in need of expensive upgrades, on highly valuable development land and with increasing energy costs.

Regional councils struggle to manage pools, often built in the 1950s that service small populations but provide valuable respite and lessons for kids. The benefits of such facilities and programs extend well beyond drowning prevention.

The current state of swimming and water safety skills among Australian primary school children has received much consideration in recent years from policy makers, the media and industry advocates. This is a key topic across Australia, and internationally as evidenced by:

  • WHO recommending compulsory swimming and water safety education for students in its Global Report on Drowning
  • Research published by RLSSA outlining gaps in achievement of basic swimming and water safety skills in Primary School children
  • State Government announcements regarding programs and program subsidies
  • Media campaigns calling for a range of actions including compulsory funding

This continues to be an emotive debate, with limited reference to evidence base or effective evaluation of measures, and a lack of national clarity or cohesion on key questions including:

  • What swimming and water safety skills should children be learning, why and when?
  • Whose responsibility is it?
  • What are the barriers, and how could they be removed or their impact reduced?
  • Who misses out, and what can we do about it?

The Symposium will engage a range of key stakeholders from across Industry, Government, Private Sector and Academia to consider key issues relating to Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016-2020 Goal 1 – Reduce Drowning deaths in Children Aged 0-14 years.

We are aiming to draft a workshop statement aimed at Increasing Children’s Swimming and Water Safety Skills. This will underline the importance of universal access to swimming and water safety education, along with a high level call to action in areas including:

  • The value and importance of school and vacation programs
  • The AWSS recommended targets
  • The National Swimming and Water Safety Framework
  • Strategies to address those most at-risk, most likely to miss out
  • Pool availability, access and long term planning
  • Swimming and Lifesaving beyond primary school

Working together, we will focus on a collective outcome to improve water safety for children across Australia.

Justin Scarr
Chief Executive Officer
Royal Life Saving Society – Australia

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