On April 1, a 2-year-old boy named Jayden Morgan-Gutierrez drowned in a Palmetto swimming pool. Jayden was at home with his mother Luci Gutierrez along with a few other children. Gutierrez turned her back for a second and when she returned, Jayden was missing. Minutes later she found him unresponsive in the pool.
In four years, the Tampa Bay area has lost the equivalent of a kindergarten class of children due to deaths caused by drowning. To make matters worse, Florida loses more children under the age of five to drowning than any other state according to the Florida Department of Health. Despite the startling statistics, however, deaths like these are 100 percent preventable.
“Drowning is not like people think, where they are splashing and yelling,” says Paula Scott, the Director of Public Relations from Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. “Children just literally silently slip into the water.”
In the Sunshine State, we are constantly surrounded by water, whether it’s the rainfall we receive during the five-month rainy season or the water surrounding and encompassing the state. Children can also drown in bathtubs, pet water bowls or even mop-buckets filled with as little as two inches of standing water. The majority of children that drown were last seen in the house, Scott says. In as little as a 20 seconds, a child can get into trouble. That is the same amount of time it takes to answer the door, send a text message, or pick up a phone call, which can all be distractions that parents face while their children are in the pool or even a bath.
“Most parents will start looking [for dangers] in closets and around the house. Instead their instinct needs to be go to the water first,” says Scott.
Florida law requires that all pools feature a barrier at least 48 inches high surrounding them. The law also requires that any gates included along the barrier that surrounds the pool must open outward away from the pool and that the barrier cannot be placed close to a permanent item that a child could use to climb over the barrier. For example, you cannot have a fence right next to deck that is higher than the fence, because the child could easily climb over using the deck. Another great option is to add door alarms so you can be aware of when a door or window is opened that might lead to the pool.
“In community settings, it is important to be aware of your surroundings because often parents tend to think someone is watching when in fact no one was watching the pool,” Scott says.
Swim lessons are another important factor to prevent drowning. The risk of a child drowning is reduced by 88 percent when they have had swim lessons. The Children’s Board and the Tampa Metropolitan YMCA have teamed together to provide mobile swim lessons wherever the children are.
Infants can begin swim lessons as young as six months old. Getting them into the water even sooner than that can also help get them used to being in the water. Instructors at the YMCA teach babies to hold their breath underwater, to float unassisted and how to turn onto their backs. Children who are 1 to 4 are taught to expand the technique into a swim-float-swim sequence by learning how to combine all those step to reach the other side of the pool.
“It’s important to educate children that the rules are you never go near the pool unless an adult is present,” says Scott.
When we think of preventing needless deaths, drowning and head trauma are typically the first things to come to mind. But sometimes, the danger can hide in plain sight in something as simple as sleeping. Babies that sleep in a parent’s bed are 40 times more likely to die, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB) is the leading cause of infant death due to injury.
ASSB can be caused by suffocation from soft bedding, for example when a pillow or waterbed mattress covers a child’s mouth; overlay, which is when another person rolls against the infant; wedging or entrapment; and strangulation, which can occur when an infant’s head is caught between crib railings.
“We need to educate parents that bumpers, stuffed animals and antiroll pads are sold on how [we think] beds should look instead of their safety,” says Scott.
To prevent ASSB and suffocation, always place babies on their backs to sleep. Use a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety approved crib and covered by a fitted sheet. Have the baby share your room, but not your bed. It is also not recommended to fall asleep with babies on the couch or a chair either while you are alone or with others. Keep soft objects like pillows and loose bedding out of your baby’s crib or sleep area as well. For parents concerned with losing bonding time while sleeping, there are safer methods that can achieve similar results without the risk. Safer methods include bassinets and slide sleepers.
“We are not necessarily advocating they should be in their own room since day one, but you can still have them in arm’s reach,” Scott says.
For some parents, crying babies can cause stress. Whether you are a new parent or a caregiver, it can become overwhelming very quickly, especially during particularly frustrating times like when you are potty-training a child.
One of the first steps you should take if you are becoming overwhelmed is to put the baby down in a safe place and walk away and take a few moments to breathe. Crying won’t kill a baby; however, letting yourself lose control can. It is important to realize that babies cry as a way of communicating and by learning what each cry means, you can eliminate the known things for why the baby is crying. It is often when a person is inexperienced with small children that they can become easily frustrated.
Shaking a child can cause irreversible brain damage, so it is especially important to know who is taking care of your child. When you are choosing your child’s caregivers, it is important to make sure that you observe them in a tense setting to see how they will react.
With education and awareness, the Children’s Board is optimistic that the number of children who perish in preventable deaths will become zero. To find out additional information about these preventable issues, visit preventneedlessdeaths.com.