Samuel Morris Foundation's Jo-Ann Morris honoured for drowning prevention work

DROWNING PREVENTION: Jo-Ann Morris co-founded the Samuel Morris Foundation following the non-fatal drowning of her son Samuel. Picture: Geoff Jones
DROWNING PREVENTION: Jo-Ann Morris co-founded the Samuel Morris Foundation following the non-fatal drowning of her son Samuel. Picture: Geoff Jones

NORTH Richmond’s Jo-Ann Morris has been named on a global list of 36 women who are making a significant contribution to drowning prevention.

The Women in Drowning Prevention list was put together during the recent World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2017 in Canada, from a Twitter campaign using the hashtag ‘WDP36’ which asked people from all around the world to nominate someone they believed was making a difference.

The list includes researchers and advocates in the field, and was capped at 36 women to represent the 360,000 drowning fatalities around the world every year.

Mrs Morris and her husband Michael are co-founders of the Samuel Morris Foundation, a charity that supports children and their families after non-fatal drownings, and also works to prevent drowning through advocacy work to improve the safety of domestic swimming pools.

The charity was set-up in 2007 following the non-fatal drowning of the couple’s son Samuel Morris - an incident that left him with a severe brain injury and major complications that eventually took his life in 2014.

“It was definitely recognition of the work we’ve been doing. And it’s the first time I’ve been recognised on my own as such, rather than being recognised alongside my husband,” Mrs Morris told the Gazette.

“I was completely honoured by it, as it’s a worldwide list. I’m also one of the only three people on that list who have started charities up after their child has had a drowning or survived a drowning.

“All the others are on that list because it’s their paid job and role - for example people who are on royal life-saving societies around the world, and doctors from hospitals. My husband is a superintendent in the NSW Fire Brigade and I am a nursing student at uni, and all our work with the Foundation is voluntary.”

Important work

According to the Samuel Morris Foundation website, the equivalent of a whole classroom of children aged 0 to 4 years lose their lives due to drowning every year in Australia.

For every fatal drowning, there are 10 non-fatal drowning events, with four hospital admissions and around one quarter of children experiencing some form of life-long injury, including catastrophic brain injuries like those sustained by Samuel, the website states.

Mrs Morris and the Foundation provide support for children who have been disabled by drowning and their families, by providing counselling and money for equipment that will support the child’s daily care and quality of life. They advocate for drowning prevention and water safety throughout the country and overseas, and lobby government.

“We work in partnership with the Children’s Hospitals Network and the water safety industry as a whole including Swim Australia, Royal Life Saving Society Australia, Surf For Life and Austswim,” said Mrs Morris.

“We also do training for swim instructors about how they can talk to the families of the kids they’re teaching how to swim, about how to get their homes safer for children.”

She said they often work with schools and community groups, and she also runs a drowning support network through social media for families around the world.

Timely reminders

Mrs Morris provided the following advice for safety in the home: “If you’ve got a pool, always make sure the pool gates are in good working order and the fences are well-constructed.

“When swimming with your child, make sure they’re at arm’s reach. Always supervise, whether it’s in your pool, at the beach, in the river or a dam.

“In your own home when your child is in the bath, never leave them to go and answer the phone or the front door - and always pull the plug out of the bath when it’s not in use.

“It takes only a few centimetres of water for a child to drown. The drowning is very silent - it’s not the splashing around you think it would be from Hollywood movies.”

She believes more education is needed, not just for parents with young children, but also for teenagers and adults - including those who go skiing, boating and swimming in the Hawkesbury River.

“Alcohol can cloud your judgement - there could be things just under the water that you could fall and hurt yourself on, and knock yourself out and drown,” she said.  

The Samuel Morris Foundation runs on donations, and Mrs Morris said every little bit helps. To donate, find out more, or reach out for support, visit the website at samuelmorrisfoundation.org.au or call Mrs Morris on 0422 340 916.