Devastating rise in child drownings during lockdown

Shepparton resident Ash Napolitano is among the parents mourning the death of their child through drowning.

Her son, Hunter, drowned in a dam on his grandfather’s farm last year. Ms Napolitano left the two-year-old boy with his grandfather while she undertook a training course.

She has previously spoken about how Hunter’s grandfather only turned his back briefly on the child before he was gone.

This year the family will be marking its second Christmas without Hunter.

“It’s a hole that will never be filled,” she said. “No one should have to pick out a coffin … for their two-year-old.”

Ms Napolitano is raising awareness and funds through her Hunter Boyle Children’s Swim Program, so children in regional communities can access swimming lessons. She said many families could not afford lessons.

Life Saving Victoria says children have missed 5.9 million swimming lessons due to pandemic restrictions.

Life Saving Victoria says children have missed 5.9 million swimming lessons due to pandemic restrictions. Credit:Louise Kennerley

“It’s very expensive and if you have multiple children and you’re struggling financially already, I can see why it’s overlooked.”

Life Saving Victoria’s health promotion and communications general manager Bernadette Matthews said parents juggling more duties at home, including work, remote learning and caring for children during lockdown had contributed to the increased rate of domestic deaths.

She said an estimated 5.9 million swimming lessons had also been missed following Victoria’s extended lockdowns.


Dr Matthews stressed it was important parents were not distracted and it was clear who was tasked with supervising kids in the water because drowning children did not necessarily make a splash or cry out for help.

“It’s important for people to understand how quickly a drowning can occur and it can be silent,” she said.

Last summer there was a spate of drownings after Life Saving Victoria warned many people would be unfit and unprepared for coastal swimming following months of lockdown.

“We’re concerned leading into the summer potentially we’ll see the same thing again,” Dr Matthews said.

She said last financial year’s deaths had left 61 families and their communities devastated. Lifeguard patrols will be increased this year.

In 2020-21, 23 of the drownings occurred during summer. Inland waterways accounted for 39 per cent of drownings, compared to 33 per cent in bays and oceans.

There were 11 drowning deaths where alcohol or illegal drugs were reported.

Life Saving Victoria will mark the drowning deaths of last financial year by placing 61 memorial rescue tubes at Sandridge Beach on Wednesday.

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