Drowning has long been the leading cause of death among kids ages 1 to 4 in the United States and new data from a federal safety agency indicates that drownings have risen steadily in the past several years.
The report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that between 2015 and 2017, an average of 379 children drowned in a pool every year — most of them at home. In 2017 (the most recent year for which data is available), the reported fatalities spiked to a high of 395.
“Residential locations make up 71% of fatal drowning incidents,” CPSC spokesperson Nikki Fleming told HuffPost.
“We’re particularly concerned with the younger children,” she said.
The report, released in June, found that kids under the age of 5 made up three-quarters of recent pool drownings. And more than half of those were marked by a gap in parental supervision ― which is a frightening statistic to hear as a parent, knowing you cannot have eyes on your children every second of the day.
Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to minimize the risks of drowning at home and elsewhere. As we head into the summer season, here are a few major ones to keep in mind:
1. Is there a pool or hot tub at home? Make sure you have layers of protection.
It’s not enough to just have a gate to your pool.
“Pools should be surrounded by a four-sided fence, with a self-closing and self-latching gate,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has warned that drownings could increase with more children at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Research shows pool fencing can reduce drowning risk by 50%.”
But don’t stop there, Fleming urges. Layer on more.
“If your home represents the fourth side of the pool, make sure you have a door alarm, so you’re alerted if your child leaves the home,” she said. “In addition, you can also use a pool alarm that will signal an alarm if the child were to actually enter the water.”
Multiple protections are important because ― as anyone who has ever parented a curious toddler knows ― there are going to be moments when they slip away from you.
“Installing layers of protection can mean the difference between life and death,” Fleming warned.
The AAP’s full policy statement on preventing kids from drowning, which has a lot of really helpful information for doctors and parents, is here.
2. Don’t forget about kiddie pools. Or even buckets.
“Never leave a child unattended in or near water, and this goes for all water,” Fleming said.
Inflatable pools should be drained after each use, so a child doesn’t wander into the backyard and fall in.
Unfortunately, young kids have been known to drown in really small bodies of water, Fleming said. Think bathtubs, buckets, decorative ponds and fountains. (The AAP has noted that most infants who drown do so in buckets or bathtubs.) So take a careful look at what you have around your home.
3. If your kids are in the water, make sure you have a designated watcher who’s not looking at their phone.
Whether your kids are splashing around in an inflatable pool or riding boogie boards in the ocean, it’s important that a designated adult be providing constant, uninterrupted supervision.
That means no looking at your phone, even for a quick text. No stepping away for “just a second.” No getting into a conversation with another adult and taking your eyes off the water.
“The problem is when everybody is watching, but no one is really watching,” Alan Korn, executive director of Abbey’s Hope, previously told HuffPost. His foundation works on pool safety in memory of its namesake, Abbey Taylor, who died from injuries sustained in a pool.
Korn suggested that if more than one adult is present, parents and caregivers trade off “watchdog duty” in 15-minute shifts.
“Drownings happen quickly and they happen quietly,” Fleming noted.
4. Swimming lessons for everyone!
The AAP said there is now pretty solid evidence that swimming lessons can help curb the risk of drowning for kids ages 1 to 4. (The group is by no means suggesting that all kids that age will necessarily learn to swim. Every child learns at their own pace.)
So if you can get your kid into lessons of some kind — which is definitely a big “if” during this summer of coronavirus — that’s great. Either way, you — or whoever is watching your child in the water — should have a very clear understanding of your kid’s capabilities and behave accordingly. If they’re a non-swimmer, you really need to be within arm’s distance, even if they’re not in deep.
And consider your own skills as well! Can you swim? Can you perform CPR?
“Learning CPR is important for both children and adults,” Fleming said. She noted that many communities offer the lifesaving training online.