Memorial Day weekend is on the way, marking the return of warm-weather activities like swimming and vacationing near pools and other bodies of water. Disruptions caused by the pandemic mean that this summer, some children are behind on swimming skills, and parents and guardians may need a refresher on pool safety.
Indiana University researcher William Ramos says drowning is the leading cause of fatal injuries among children ages 1 to 4 in the United States.
Ramos is an expert on water safety. He says learning to swim is an important part of drowning prevention. But by the time a child or adult must use their skim skills to save themselves from drowning, it’s likely that several missteps have already occurred.
According to Ramos’s research, three key factors are associated with fatal childhood drowning incidents: permission, supervision, and caregiver distraction.
In childhood submersion incidents involving permission, more than 86% reflected a case in which the child didn’t have permitted water access. This was also found to be a significant contributor to fatal outcomes.
In cases involving supervision, more than 80% of child victims were alone at the time of the incident. Compared to incidents in which an adult was present, children who were alone were 35 times more likely to have a fatal outcome.
Even when an adult is present, active supervision also matters. Incidents without active adult supervision were 24 times more likely to have a fatal outcome than those with it. The supervision of a parent was also protective, with incidents involving supervision by non-parents of the child, such as a grandparent or childcare provider, being twice as likely to result in a fatal drowning.
Ramos says it’s important for parents and guardians to understand that supervision around the pool requires a heightened level of attention compared to other activities, such as a visit to the playground. Research shows that childhood drownings can happen in a very short period of time, so staying vigilant is key.