Imagine if every single year, a bus full of toddlers died from the same cause. Would you want to do something about it? Well, that’s like what happens with drownings.
Sixty-six Florida children under age 5 died from drowning last year.
Counting youths through their teens, the tragic total reached 97. So far this year in Broward County, five young children drowned in swimming pools. And consider that for every drowning death, an estimated five children go to the hospital with serious injuries that may include neurologic damage.
Every one of those tragedies could have been prevented – with simple steps. A repaired lock on the pool gate. A fence around the pool. An alarm on a patio door. Most importantly, an adult who can swim must attentively supervise the child.
The Drowning Prevention Task Force, which is funded by the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, has helped reduce child drownings through education and other steps. Partners include the Florida Department of Health in Broward, Swim Central, YMCA, the Florida Department of Children & Families and police and fire departments.
But these organizations can’t do it alone. Broward has 130,000 pools at homes and multi-family complexes, plus miles of waterways. Drownings can happen in seconds, without warning. Parents and guardians can take steps to protect their children. Here’s how:
• Recognize it can happen. Many parents who lost a child never imagined that danger was so close.
• Don’t rely on responsible behavior from your child or anyone else. If you can’t watch your child in the water, make sure a responsible adult is there.
• Avoid cell phones and other distractions. It takes full attention in order to properly supervise children in the water.
• Create “secondary barriers” in case supervision fails. A fence around all sides of the pool as well as alarms and locks on doors and windows can be your backstop.
• Learn CPR for drowning victims, which includes breaths and chest compressions.
• Check the pool first if a child is missing. Get the child out of the water fast and start CPR.
• Don’t rely solely on your ears. Children who drown do not scream, splash or struggle, they silently slip beneath the water – often with a caregiver in the home.
• Teach your children to never go near water without an adult, not to panic if they fall in and how to swim to the side to get help.
We can make a difference. If we don’t, our little ones will continue to be the victims. Remember that 90 percent of drownings occur when the child goes outside unseen. It doesn’t have to happen.
More information: browardchd.org/healths_drowning.aspx or 954-213-0712.
Dr. Paula Thaqi is a health officer with the Florida Department of Health in Broward County.