(The Dallas Examiner) – Drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and a leading cause of death for ages 1 to 14. For males, this risk skyrockets as they become young teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, 76 children fatally drowned in Texas. That equates to one full school bus of children. Though 7 to 8 times that number of children survived a near drowning, many with life-long repercussions or injuries. Since the beginning of 2023, 11 children have drowned in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Black children between the ages of 5 and 19 drown at a rate of 5.5 times higher than White children, according to the CDC. The USA Swimming Foundation reported that 64% of Black children cannot swim, compared to 45% of Hispanic children and 40% of White children.
Drowning is fast and silent, but it is preventable.
On April 20, the Health and Human Services Commission Office of Disability Prevention for Children hosted a webinar, Water Safety – Drowning Prevention in Infants and Children. The webinar addressed drownings and other injuries in infants and children and provided practical tips and resources to promote infant and child safety. The event was facilitated by ODPC Project Manager Jay Smith and featured guest speaker Jessica Brown, program and education director at Colin’s Hope.
In Texas, drownings occur year-round; however, drownings peak in the summer months.
“No one is drown-proof. Water is dangerous whether you know how to swim or not. It doesn’t discriminate. Anybody from any background or experience with water can drown. We know Olympic swimmers who have drowned,” Brown stated.
Drowning prevention and tips
Every family member should learn to swim so they can at least achieve skills of water competency: be able to enter the water, get a breath, stay afloat, change position, swim a distance, then get out of the water safely.
Brown encouraged parents and caregivers to take a water safety course.
“Learn about water safety. Talk about water safety. Practice water safety to prevent drowning,” she advised.
Additionally, having a designated water watcher can help prevent drowning when at a pool. Water watchers should follow the following steps:
- Let the children know that you are the water watcher.
- Station yourself near the water.
- Wear a badge identifying you as the water watcher.
- Remain undistracted while on duty.
- Clearly transfer water watcher duties to another adult after your shift.
- Block access to all water during non-swim times.
- Learn CPR with rescue breaths and refresh skills.
She said parents should encourage children not to play risky games in the water; for example, the breath-holding game or pushing people under or into the water.
“There’s always going to be some risk around water,” Brown stated. “While we can never be 100% safe around water, we can make safer choices.”
At home, parents should never leave a child unattended in the bathtub. Always be within arm’s reach of the child, and phones should only be used for emergencies and not serve as a distraction. Pick up the child and go together if you must leave the bathroom, according to Brown.
“Drowning is fast and silent. You might think that you’re going hear something, but you probably won’t,” she said.
If you have an outdoor pool, lake or pond at your home, the area should be fenced, allowing access to adults only.
Brown emphasized the use of paddle boards over a floaty and the use of U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets when in open water sources like a lake or beach.
Before closing, Brown expressed the importance of people committing to educating themselves, their families and their community about water safety.
Free online water safety lessons for children are available at https://www.drowningispreventable.org. Water safety tips and resources for parents and caregivers can be found at https://www.colinshope.org. Additional water safety resources are available at https://www.ndpa.org and https://www.familiesunitedtopreventdrowning.org.