With restrictions eased and the community getting used to a post-COVID life, Geelong Aquatic Centre owner and manager Geoff Gill is urging parents to ensure their children are learning how to swim.
The latest data from Life Saving Victoria found one-quarter of all fatal drownings in Victoria were children aged 14 or younger and Mr Gill said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risk.
“Children have had a pretty rough time over the last two years and we’ve found that lots of little ones have gone backwards in their swimming ability,” he said.
“That’s to be expected – children can’t retain that level of skill they had achieved if they’re not getting into the water for six months, nine months, 18 months at a time, while we were locked away.
“Now we’re back and allowed to run swimming lessons again and its important parents make sure their children know how to swim.”
Mr Gill said learning to swim and water safety could be the difference between life and death.
“It only take two inches of water for a child to drown and they don’t have the same instinct to fight when they go under,” he said.
“So not only is it important for parents to always watch their children around water, the children need to know what to do when they are in water.
“I’ve had parents come to me and tell me their child has fallen in the Barwon River and they’re still alive because they had done what they had learned in swimming lessons and rolled onto their back.”
Mr Gill said the younger children learned how to be safe around the water, the better.
“It’s frightening how many children drown, so our point of view is the earlier they learn how to swim, the better that is for them,” he said.
“It depends on each child, but we tend to recommend starting around four months old.
“We start with the parents with them in the water and focusing on things like safe water entry and getting used to being in the water.
“We do that up to about three years old, and then they start on their own.”
Mr Gill said the centre also ran a swimming program for children with a disability.
“My wife Debbie is very passionate about our swordfish program, which is designed for children with a disability,” he said.
“We know that there are some children out there that are going to have some difficulty fitting into a mainstream class, but it’s just as important that they are able to learn to swim.
“That’s why we run a program here on a Saturday afternoon, where children are able to have one-on-one or maybe one-on-two lessons, rather than the bigger classes.
“We currently have about 80 children in that program and they absolutely love it. Not only are they having fun and learning about water awareness, but it is something regular and they can build relationships with their teachers.”