June 3, 2013

How Child Drowning Can Be Prevented

A child can drown in as little as a few inches of water. Life-saving safety programs can show parents and caregivers how to avoid a tragedy.

Virginia Graeme Baker, age 7, was playing in a hot tub at a birthday party. Suddenly, she became entrapped by suction from the drain at the pool bottom. Despite the adults’ efforts to free her, the child drowned. Her death spurred Congress to pass the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act in 2007, a federal law that requires anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices on our nation’s pools and spas.

With drowning the number one cause of death among children ages 1–4, adults cannot be too vigilant when supervising kids swimming, boating, or just splashing around. The Children’s Safety Network at EDC helps state agencies promote awareness about keeping kids safe around water. EDC’s Jennifer Allison recently led a webinar on drowning prevention that highlighted effective national programs and strategies for water safety. The webinar featured presenters from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Safe Kids Worldwide, the Swim for Life Foundation, and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance.

Q: What is the biggest misconception about child drowning?

Allison: A lot of people assume that if a child is drowning, they’ll make a lot of noise, that it’s a loud event. Children drown quickly and silently. So if a parent is reading a book or listening to an iPod, they may not realize their child is in trouble. Close supervision of young children is crucially important. Children under age 5 make up 75 percent of child drowning deaths, with more than half of those occurring in residential pools. And those children who survive drowning can have permanent brain injuries.

Q: What does the law say about water safety?

Allison: In addition to requiring anti-entrapment drain covers on pools and spas, the Virginia Graeme Baker Act establishes a voluntary grant program for states that pass pool and spa safety laws mandating pool alarms, barriers, and entrapment prevention. The Federal Coast Guard Personal Floatation Device rule requires children ages 12 and under to wear a personal floatation device while boating. As of 2009, the National Conference of State Legislatures found that nine states had laws requiring fencing around pools: Arizona, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia.

Q: What are some examples of effective state water safety programs out there?

Allison: Alaska’s Kids Don’t Float program—a life jacket or floatation device loaner program at docks and shorelines—has been replicated now in several other states. It’s simple and effective.

Another campaign is WaterproofFL, which focuses on parent and caregiver supervision of children who are in the water, physical barriers such as locks and fences to prevent an unaccompanied child from entering a pool, and knowledge of CPR in case of an emergency.

When states develop effective programs, other states are quick to adopt them. Child drownings can be prevented.