A new campaign is being launched to address high numbers of children who drown in Northeast Florida
Warmer weather and longer days have already arrived, and soon families all over Northeast Florida will be headed to the water for outdoor fun that will last into October in our state. As the swimming season begins again, Safe Kids Northeast Florida and its lead organization THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children's Hospital are announcing a new water safety campaign with a vital motivation behind the initiative.
In 2017, 40 children were treated at Wolfson Children's Hospital for drowning. Most survived the various ways they were submerged in water, but some did not, or were left with permanent damage because they were under water for too long before being found or rescued. Last year, a total of 12 children in Northeast Florida lost their lives from drowning, some before they ever received medical attention. Most were 5 years old or younger, and most drowned in a pool. All these tragic losses could have been prevented.
This year, we are asking parents and caregivers of all children to Lifeguard Your Child©, making sure multiple layers of protection are used consistently to protect children from potential dangers inherent in water. The more layers of protection in place around any kind of water, the safer your child is, but the most important and effective safeguard for your child is a watchful and attentive adult. "If there is one message we want to make sure parents hear, it is to always know where your child is. When they are young, this requires some real vigilance, but the results of not being that careful are devastating and too great a risk," says Solange Benjamin, MD, medical director of Wolfson Children's Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
The Lifeguard Your Child© Campaign also reminds parents and caregivers of children of these additional layers of protection to follow to prevent drowning:
When children are swimming or playing in or around the water, use the Water Watcher system of supervision. At least one adult should serve as the Water Watcher at all times. Their job is to maintain constant visual supervision of the children and not to allow themselves to be distracted by texting, talking to a friend, or reading a book, etc. This is necessary because drowning is a silent event; and it's quick - a submerged child can become unconscious within two minutes. A water watcher can wear a Water Watcher tag or a funny hat to designate who is “on duty” and must be sure to assign another responsible adult before leaving the area.
If you have a pool, spa, or pond nearby, install several barriers to prevent babies and toddlers from wandering out to the water without an adult. Examples that work if used consistently are a lock installed high on the door leading to the water; loud alarms on doors and windows; 4-sided isolation fencing around the pool itself; and anchored, professionally installed covers that will support the weight of a child to cover pools not in use during the colder months.
Even when a lifeguard is present, parents should still "Lifeguard Your Child©". A typical ratio of lifeguard to child can be as high as 25:1, so lifeguards need parents to be responsible for their own child to prevent the need for a rescue.
Keep your kids in swimming lessons. Not only should children sign up for swimming lessons each year, but they need to complete all of the lessons! If you have the opportunity to keep them in lessons periodically throughout the year, they will remember what they've learned better by summer. Keep them in lessons year after year to build their strokes and their strength and consider switching them over to a swim team when they're older if they're interested.
Learn CPR. Families of young children and all pool owners should become trained in the special skills of CPR needed for infants, children, and drowning victims of all ages. Keep rescue equipment like a life ring and a phone by your pool so you are ready to respond.
This year, please join the call to action and commit to Lifeguard Your Child©! Swimming and water recreation should be lots of fun but safety must be taken seriously. Too many people thought it could never happen to them and let their guard down during a busy moment or even a longer period of time because they didn't know better. No parent should ever have to endure the preventable loss of a child to drowning.
There is much more to know about water safety to prevent childhood drowning. If you would like additional information, please visit our website at wolfsonchildrens.org/water. If you would like to receive Lifeguard Your Child materials to share with friends and businesses that serve families, please contact Safe Kids Northeast Florida at 904.202.4302.