The number of kids learning to swim in the ACT has fallen by up to 1,000 participants, prompting safety concerns as summer approaches.
The Royal Life Saving Society said some in-school programs have seen participation rates fall over last two years, and out of school programs have not picked up the slack.
Royal Life Saving ACT executive director Cherry Bailey said the number of Canberra children learning to swim has fallen since 2015.
“We are a little bit concerned that the participation rate is not what it used to be, and that’s across the board for students of all ages, but particularly in primary schools,” she said.
“The big scare is the risk of drowning, and that’s what we’re all about, drowning prevention.”
Ms Bailey said swimming lessons were often overlooked as busy families try to fit in time for other hobbies and sports.
“We’re really asking the question, ‘Is that instilling a life skill, or is that something that’s just going to be enjoyable after school?’,” she said.
“We really want to make sure that children are being enrolled in these programs at a young age, so as they’re graduating through their childhood and into adolescence, and into a more explorative and adventurous lifestyle with less supervision … they’re going to be safe in those environments.”
Concerns cost too much for families with multiple children
Ms Bailey said parents have been concerned about the cost of providing swimming lessons to their children.
“The financial burden is one of the major barriers, especially if you’ve got a family of more than just a single child,” she said.
Ms Bailey has called for more funding to make learn-to-swim programs accessible across different age groups.
“The Education Department generously supports the AquaSafe program, which is dedicated to year two students,” she said.
“The fees are set at a flat rate of $50 for families, and the Government subsidises the rest.
“We’d really like to see something similar adopted for all year groups, and we think there’s going to be a combination of sponsorship from the community and organisations and corporate groups, as well as that funding from the government to reach that.”
‘They need to know how to save their lives’
While there has been a drop in the number of students taking learn-to-swim classes, Ms Bailey said there were still plenty of parents doing the right thing.
Susan Dow’s five-year-old son Oscar has been taking swimming lessons at a local pool in Gungahlin since he was one year old.
“We have rivers and lakes and beaches,” she said.
“We’re outdoorsy people and there are so many dangers in the water, they need to know how to save their lives.
“We’re very confident that he can swim.”
Tamra Wilson has three children enrolled in learn to swim classes, aged four, five and eight.
“With three kids of a similar age, who are close together, if for some reason they’re not close by or they’re not on the shore, I need to know that they’re not going to drown,” she said.