Toddler Drowning Prevention-- Keep the Message Simple!

Despite the passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool Safety Act, the construction of barrier fences around private pools, an increase in the number of learn to swim programs targeting young children (ages 1-4), the drowning rate in this category remains alarmingly high, especially among African American children.

During a drowning survey by Fletemeyer, it was discovered that nearly 58 percent of the respondents believed that it is possible to “drown proof” a child by providing learn to swim lessons (Fig. 1 drownproof.pdf).

In another study conducted by the America Red Cross, the majority of respondents believed that water wings are more effective way of preventing drowning than adult supervision. In addition, research indicates that most people are not familiar with the “layers of protection” concept that is regarded by most professionals as key to drowning prevention.

The authors of this editorial continue to believe that drowning education and learn to swim programs are key to reducing the drowning rate among children. However, we also believe that it is important to question the efficacy of some of these programs. Although well intended, some programs fail to emphasize the importance of “touch” supervision by a responsible adult not only when a child is in the water but also, and just as important, when a child is near the water. All too often a mother will leave the pool deck to answer the door bell or to get a drink from the refrigerator, only to return to find their toddler at the bottom of the pool.


In addition we believe that all drowning prevention programs should keep their message simple, emphasizing the following advice.

  • Never assign the responsibility for supervising a child to a sibling.
  • Never supervise more than one child at a time.
  • Always remain within reach of a non swimmer child. (Image 1)
  • Never engage in distracting activities.
  • When supervising a child at the pool, be aware that a drowning child seldom struggles and rarely if ever yells for help.
  • Learn the basics of CPR.

Image 1: Photo of mother next to her child at a swimming pool




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