Shepparton parents warned following spike in child deaths

By Liz Mellino

Shepparton parents are being urged to set up safe play areas and actively supervise their children following an alarming spike in accidental child deaths.

The warnings come just one month after Shepparton's Ash Napolitano and Matt Boyle lost their two-year-old son Hunter in a drowning incident in a Grahamvale dam.

Young Hunter was feeding horses on his grandfather's farm on August 12 when he went missing and was tragically found unresponsive in the water a short time later.

He was rushed to Goulburn Valley Health in Shepparton where doctors, nurses and members of The Royal Children's Hospital PIPER Unit spent close to seven hours fighting to save his life, however Hunter succumbed to his injuries.

His mum Ash says she is still struggling to come to terms with their devastating loss.

“You can’t be complacent, not for a second. The way that this has impacted me and my family is raw and painful,” she said.

“We buried Hunter on the Tuesday and we saw on the Friday that another two-year-old drowned two hours away from us — it just broke my heart.”

Statistics from the Coroners Court of Victoria reveal that since August 1 eight children have died across Victoria due to injuries sustained in accidents.

These include three drownings, a driveway run-over, a pedestrian incident, a house fire and a curtain chain strangulation.

It is a significant spike considering on average 17 Victorian children aged zero to 14 years die every year as a result of unintentional injury.

Royal Children's Hospital director of trauma Dr Warwick Teague acknowledged the home was the most common location for children to be injured — a place where locals are spending more time than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unintentional injuries are one of the leading causes of death and hospitalisation for Australian children. Common causes include transport incidents, drowning, choking or suffocation, TV and other furniture tip-overs, falls and poisoning,” he said.

“It is very concerning that the number of deaths of children has been so high in 2020 — even one death is too many.”

With school holidays upon us, Kidsafe Victoria and The Royal Children's Hospital are encouraging parents and carers to be mindful of potential injury hazards in their homes and to consider strategies to help reduce the risk.

While children under five are usually inquisitive and love to explore, Ms Napolitano reminded people that it only takes a split second for them to get into trouble and that split second can be life-changing.

“Just get it out there that these little ones are so fast and so curious and we have to be more attentive,” she said.

“It’s not something you want in common with anyone. We want to try and make a difference.”