There has been an 85% increase in the number of child drownings in England between 2019 and 2022, with 20 drownings occurring in 2019/20 compared with 37 in 2021/22.

This is according to new data published today by the National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) team at the University of Bristol. Researchers and the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) are urging families to speak to their children about water safety, and the report calls for greater involvement of the Government and relevant departments to show their support in light of the alarming increase.

The report marks the first time that data has been available which classifies child drowning fatalities based on ethnicity and deprivation levels. It shows that the risk of drowning was 3.5 times higher for children of Black or Black British ethnicity than White. It also shows that the risk of drowning was 2 times higher for children from more deprived areas than from less deprived areas.

RLSS UK has recently highlighted that children from ethnic minority groups and those on low incomes are falling behind on statutory swimming and self-rescue outcomes in England[1]. This is also the first time that data has been made available which shows that those from minority ethnic groups and those on low-incomes are disproportionately at risk from losing their life to drowning.

The report highlights that the Government must urgently address the inadequacies that are evident when looking at the current approach within education for swimming and class-based water safety.

Lee Heard, Charity Director at RLSS UK said, “It is essential that water safety education and experience for children should be taken forward regionally and nationally. There is a requirement to nationally revise and reform the current approach to swimming and water safety education. With the purpose of tackling the clear disparity for low-income and ethnically diverse children who are being missed by the current statutory efforts and are over-represented in child drowning deaths.” 

The data is published in a report from Bristol’s NCMD, co-authored by RLSS UK, and collects comprehensive and timely information on every child death in England, to identify any risks or patterns from 644 trauma-related child deaths over three 12-month periods spanning 1 April 2019 until 31 March 2022.

Professor Karen Luyt, Director of the National Child Mortality Database and Professor of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Bristol, said, “Every child or young person who dies as a result of drowning is a tragedy and their deaths represent a devastating loss for their families. Drowning is consistently recognised as a highly preventable public health challenge, with mostly low-cost solutions, such as installing barriers to control access to water hazards, supervision for younger children and teaching school-age children basic water competency.”

The University of Bristol National Child Mortality Database trauma report by Karen Luyt et al. was published 13 July 2023.

View the full report.

[1] National Drowning Report UK 2022