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Abstract

The number of children who drown at open-water locations such as surf beaches increases with age. In New Zealand, from 1980-2002, 70% of 5-9-year-olds (n = 71) drowned in open water locations. Little is known about parental supervision of young children at beaches. The purpose of this paper is to report on exploratory observations of caregiver supervision of children at the beach. Two experienced lifeguards were trained to observe caregiver water safety supervisory behaviors at 18 popular beaches in the summer of 2006/7. Of the 544 observations made, one quarter (24%) of children in the water were not considered to be adequately supervised. Most supervision (74%) was done by a single person irrespective of the number of children under their control. Of the 130 caregivers failing to provide adequate supervision, one third (30%) lay on the beach sunbathing, one quarter (28%) talked to others, and one quarter (27%) used cell phones. In light of these findings, recommendations about further research and safe supervision practices by parents/caregivers are suggested. Water safety organizations need to develop and promote guidelines for the safe supervision of young children at beaches.

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