While summer break is winding down and families are preparing for the start of a new school year, still the hot weather continues and the potential for drowning accidents remains a matter of concern.
Drowning is a leading cause of death in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, with toddlers and male adolescents being at highest risk. In 2017, drowning claimed the lives of almost 1,000 U.S. children younger than 20 years, the AAP says.
In 2018, drowning claimed the life of Colton 4-year-old Kirsten Bjorn.
As Drowning Impact Awareness Month comes to a close, we've gathered a list of prevention strategies with the help of Beccah Bjorn, mother of Kirsten, and members of her drowning prevention group.
But first, a couple of important notes about drowning. Know that drowning is silent and can happen in a matter of seconds. Also, drowning doesn't only happen in pools and lakes; it can happen in as little as one inch of water. And finally, when a child goes missing, check the water first as the drowning process is a continuum that can be interrupted by rescue at any time with varying results, per the AAP.
Here is the list of some of the most important drowning prevention strategies, which the group Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning calls "vital layers of protection."
1 Constant Supervision
When children have access to water, it's important that adults provide constant supervision. This means supervisors should put their phones away during water time. Messages and pictures can wait, but child safety cannot.
Beccah's group members recommend never taking your kids swimming without bringing a rescue buddy, which is another adult in case something happens to you.
Another way to ensure supervision around water is to designate a "water watcher" using badges. The water watcher wears a badge to show that he or she is the adult in charge. The water watcher can be rotated every 15 minutes or so. In Kirsten's honor, the Bjorn team created water watcher badges for the local preschool's water safety program in March.
2 Barriers and Alarms
One important way to prevent drowning is to put barriers in place that keep kids from entering the water without an adult present.
Put high locks on all doors and windows that lead to the pool. Block off or remove doggy doors as small children can fit through and gain access to water outside.
And of course, use fences. Fencing should not have chain link or horizontal slats, according to Beccah's group members, and it should be in place not only around the yard, but also around the pool. Pool fences should have self-latching gates.
When barriers fail, alarms are a way to alert adults that a child might be outside or might be in danger of drowning. There are alarms for doors and windows and even immersion alarms for pools or wearable alarms for individuals.
3 Skill the Child
One of the best defenses against water accidents is to ensure that children know how to protect themselves. Of course, this means ongoing swimming lessons are an absolute priority.
"Swim lessons have to come before soccer, t-ball and dance," Beccah said. "The ability to safely float can quickly be lost for children, so lessons have to be kept up on."
Some facilities even have Infant Self Rescue classes for children as young as six months old. Kirsten's younger sister Maija Bjorn takes part in a self-rescue swim program at Swimbabes in Milwaukie. Beccah said it's amazing to see a one-year-old turn over and float unassisted.
4 Life jackets for safety, not for play
Coast Guard approved life jackets should be available when on a boat, pier or any other open water. These aren't for swimming, but in case a child falls in.
According to the group, life jackets aren't meant for play time in the water or at pools as they give children a false confidence and false sense of security in the water. The same goes for the popular arm-and-chest floaties called puddle jumpers. Later, children may find themselves in the water unattended and without a life jacket, and they may not know what to do when they struggle.
5 Learn CPR
Techniques for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, vary for infants, children and adults. Best practices also change as more and more research becomes available. So it's important to learn CPR and to update training every year. CPR saves lives.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.