Florida is Numero Uno in so many ways—beaches, Disney, gorgeous weather, the oldest city, the Space Coast, and so much more. But here’s one distinction we wish we didn’t have: In Florida, drowning rates for children under age 5 are more than double the national average and higher than any other state in the nation.
Every year, as the temperatures rise and pools and open water beckon, babies and toddlers enter the water unsupervised and drown. For every child who drowns, four more are hospitalized for near-drowning. These are preventable tragedies. Michelle Sterling, St. Joseph’s Children’s Wellness and Safety Specialist, has these 10 suggestions for parents to ensure that families make the good kind of memories around water this summer.
- Designate a water watcher when you’re at a pool gathering. In a crowd, people often assume someone else is watching the kids; never make that assumption. Instead, choose one adult to put their phone away and do nothing but keep their eye on the kids in the pool. After 10 minutes, trade the job with another adult.
- Install a pool fence with a self-closing gate and door alarms that will sound if a child gets into the pool area or leaves the house, particularly by the door that takes them directly outside to the pool area. Test the alarms to make sure that they are working properly.
- Teach children to swim. If money is a barrier to swimming lessons, consider that children ages 6 months and above are eligible to receive a swim lesson voucher in St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Safety Store. Criteria are that they must be Hillsborough County residents enrolled in one of the following: Medicaid, Hillsborough County School’s Free Lunch Program or SNAP-Food Assistance Program.
- Learn CPR so that if an emergency does occur, you can help stabilize the child until help arrives. People can register for infant and child CPR classesat BayCare.org/Events.
- If you are out on open water, make sure that everyone on board is wearing a U.S. Coastguard-approved lifejacket. Visit https://www.uscgboating.org/ to get detailed instructions on how to choose a lifejacket.
- Empty kiddie pools and buckets when not in use and turn them upside down. Children can drown in as little as one inch of water. For this reason, install toilet lid locks if you have a new walker and make sure bathtubs are drained.
- Teach children to ask permission to swim.
- If a toddler or young child is missing, head immediately to your pool (or any ponds or open water around your house) to check there first.
- Fish toys and rafts out of your pool when you’re done swimming so that a young child won’t feel tempted to jump in and retrieve a favorite item.
- If you vacation in a relative’s home or Airbnb this summer, ensure that the same rules apply. Be extra vigilant if you are in a place where the pool has not been enclosed.
5 Myths About Drowning
- A drowning child will be loud. Drowning is absolutely silent. There is often no sound or splashing at all. You must always have eyes on the child.
- Drowning takes time, so it’s OK to dash inside and fix a quick sandwich. Drowning is quick. Two minutes following submersion, a child will lose consciousness, and irreversible brain damage can occur after just four to six minutes.
- If there’s a lifeguard around, my child is safe. A lifeguard is scanning the entire area, not just watching your child. You still need to have a pair of eyeballs on your child.
- Floats and water wings will keep my child safe. They may keep your child temporarily afloat, but they also give a young child an illusion of safety and may lead them to think they can just step into the pool at any time and they’ll be fine. These devices don’t substitute for learning how to swim.
- If there’s a fence, my child is safe. Many pool fences are not installed properly or are left unlocked. Especially if you are visiting someone else’s house or public property, be aware the safety measures may not be the same as in your home.