THIRTY children in Ireland drown every ten years — needlessly. Lack of education and adult supervision are the main reasons, says Caroline Casey.
Caroline, who was recently awarded the Road Safety Authority ‘Leading Light in Road Safety’ award for 2017, is the Cork County Council safety officer.
It’s a full-time post for this mother-of-one who is the only full-time safety officer working for a local authority in the country.
Caroline, who is passionate about her job, is active at all levels, from pre-school to post primary and with the public in general.
She completed a H.Dip in coaching & coaching psychology at UCC last year. Her research project was based on safety education for children, using a coaching approach. This approach is an empowering experience for children, giving them the opportunity to participate in safe practices, based on knowledge that is revealed to them as they arrive at it themselves.
Active in water safety, road safety and farm safety, Caroline created her job. Having worked for the local authority for years, she approached management in 2015 and came up with a plan.
“The number of drownings in Cork were quite high. There was a need to do something more about this,” says Caroline.
“Knowing that lack of education and adult supervision are the main causes, my thought was that I can’t do much about supervision unless I’m working on a pool deck or on the beaches in the summer. But I realised we could make an impact on education and on promoting it.
“Generally speaking, most primary schools would do a term of swimming in their local swimming pool. I suppose each school makes its own decision, as to whether they can afford it. It’s part of the curriculum and is encouraged.”
When it comes to children in the water, supervision is key, says Caroline.
“Would you leave a child unsupervised at the side of a motorway? It’s the same thing with water but people can be blasé about the water. We take it for granted. We think that maybe children know more than they actually do.”
Caroline says that boys tend to take more chances in the water.
“Boys might call it being brave, while girls might call it being stupid. But there is peer pressure (to take risks).”
When she visits a school, her aim is to develop the children’s risk assessment skills.
“Be it on the road, around water or on a farm, it’s about using your common sense. What is your gut telling you? It’s about being responsible for your behaviour.”
While everyone has common sense and skills, people sometimes forget them. Caroline’s approach is not preaching from the top of a classroom. She gets the children to think for themselves, pointing out the folly of certain actions and allowing the children to come to sensible conclusions.
“She cites the example of throwing a ring buoy to someone in difficulty in the water.
“Some might say that you should throw it over the person’s head. But I point out that you could knock someone out doing that. We talk through the situation. I get the children to come up with the correct answer. When throwing a ring buoy, you should drop the end of the rope on the ground and put your leg on top of it so that when you throw the ring buoy, the rope doesn’t go into the water.”
With approximately 500 schools in County Cork, it’s not possible for Caroline to go round to all of them and speak to every individual child: “I decided to bring all the services to one place, Tír Na Sí open farm in Watergrasshill. The Road Safety Authority speaks to the children there and Irish Water Safety speaks to them. We teach the children how to do CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) with a resuscitation doll.
“We have speakers such as Padraig Higgins from Co Laois whose six-year-old son, James, drowned in a farm accident some years ago. I always point out, particularly in rural schools, that a farm is not a playground.
“Once the children have the information and take part in workshops, they go outdoors and look at a farm. They can see what a slurry tank looks like and they know why it’s dangerous to go too near the animals or on top of bales of hay. What they learn, they put into practice.”
Caroline initiated the idea of a Safety Flag Award for the schools of County Cork. The flags are awarded to each school on foot of completing a personal safety programme.
“To date, 123 schools are flying the safety flag. When the flag is awarded to a school, the children receive an education pack to go with it. The pack contains a school gate safety brochure, a road safety loop card game, a road safety snap card game, road, water and farm safety board games and story books about the adventures of characters called Sally and Jake based on road, water and farm safety.