It’s heart-breaking, when infants drown – and an awful reminder of parental responsibility

The question of parental responsibility for keeping their children safe didn’t get a mention in media coverage of a coroner’s report the other day.

But, in a separate case, it has been headlined in reports in newspapers today .

Alf is tempted to wonder, accordingly, about why the emphasis differed in the two unfortunate infant deaths.

Two days ago, the media were reporting that the death of a two-year-old girl who fell through a faulty stormwater drain cover had led a coroner to call for local authorities to develop a “robust system” to make manholes safer.

Fair enough, too. There had been obvious negligence.

Aisling Symes, of West Auckland, died on October 5, 2009, after a heavy rainfall lifted a manhole cover on a Housing Corporation property. She fell into the flooded manhole and drowned.

Wellington regional coroner Garry Evans issued a 45-page finding.

On the day of Aisling’s death, it had been raining all day. As a result the “surcharge” of water in the pipes lifted the manhole cover.

Waitakere City Council, now part of Auckland Council, had received regular complaints about the particular manhole cover lifting after heavy rain.

Mr Evans said the council now accepted it should have established safety protocols around manholes known to surcharge.

But he said it was a highly unusual for people to fall into them. “There were no known or recorded instances of injury or death following the falling into a partially open manhole by a member of the public.”

Nevertheless he issued recommendations to Local Government New Zealand, urging it to establish national guidelines for public safety that would include a statement on the levels of service required around surcharging manholes and a criteria worked out for fitting safety grilles.

Authorities were urged to take immediate steps around those manholes, developing systems for working out in what conditions manhole covers were likely to lift off in heavy rains.

Mr Evans said each authority needed to develop a “robust system of identifying and ranking public safety risks around all manholes”.

But in the case reported today, a coroner has said the tragic drowning of a two-year-old at Waiwera Thermal Hot Pools in 2008 highlights the importance of parents actively supervising young children at swimming pools.

In this case, reporting into the death of Nylah Masae Faamanu Vau, Coroner Peter Ryan found the toddler’s drowning at the swimming complex north of Auckland, was accidental.

However a “causative factor in this death was the lack of active supervision of Nylah”.

Nylah drowned after she wandered away from the kiddie pool where she was playing with other young children, and fell into the tower pool.

He father, Fa’amanu Vau told police in a statement that he left his wife supervising the children while he unloaded the car.

However as he did this, his wife told him she needed to go and breastfeed another child, leaving the children without active supervision.

Sadly, the infant had somehow finished up at the bottom of a pool.

Nylah could not be resuscitated.

“This death highlights again the need for parents to actively and closely supervise young children at swimming pools, even if the pool complex provides lifeguards,” Mr Ryan found.

“If there is a handover from one parent to the other of responsibility for such supervision, then it is imperative that each parent clearly understands who has that responsibility at any given time.

“Parents cannot and should not rely upon staff at a commercial pool complex to supervise their young children, as this is not usually the staff’s responsibility.”

Alf would have thought the accidental death of an infant highlight the importance of parents actively supervising young children at all times and in all circumstances.

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