As the temperature ticks up, the sparkling blues and greens of pools, ponds, and beaches can become even more enticing. But for the very youngest amongst us, Florida’s greatest blessing—all this beautiful water—can become deadly.
So far in 2023, there have already been more than 22 pediatric drownings in Florida. Almost all these children were under age 6, and they share a grim commonality: In almost every case, the child was found unresponsive in a swimming pool after they got out of the house undetected.
Fact: Accidental drowning is the leading cause of death of children ages 1-4.
These are scenarios almost every parent is familiar with. Maybe you’re unloading groceries, taking a quick phone call, or folding clothes with an older child in charge. Maybe your preschooler was playing unsupervised in the screened-in lanai or napping in their room. But all of the above scenarios have been echoed in recent tragedies where a child managed to get out of the house and away from watchful eyes in just minutes.
It only takes 20 seconds for a child to drown according to Dr. Kelly Devers, Hillsborough County Medical Examiner. “Drowning is silent and fast. A child, when they’re drowning makes no noise or any type of commotion. In today’s world of constant distraction and constant activities, constant supervision is the most important way we can keep children from drowning.”
“Kids will be drawn to shiny, sparkling water,” warns Michelle Sterling, Senior Wellness and Safety Specialist at BayCare Kids Wellness and Safety Center. “We like to encourage children and families to participate in formal swim lessons starting as young as the age of six months old to help keep our children safe. Children that are in swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88% in those ages of 1 through 4.”
She added, “Drowning typically does happen with adults nearby. At highest risk of drowning are children with autism which is the number one reason we want to register all children for swim lessons that are designed for their specific needs to keep them safer in and around the water. We encourage families to sign up for swim lessons and there are many options in our community.”
Free swim lessons are available. In the City of Tampa, the Rays Foundation has allowed the city to provide free lessons for those who qualify. You only need to have a free or reduced lunch card.
“All you have to do is show up at one of our 12 pools and we’ll enroll you in classes,” said Peggy Lenny with the City of Tampa.
You can find a pool near you by visiting the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation page here.
Important Summer Water Safety Tips Every Parent Needs to Know
Whether you are in your own home, visiting grandparents from out of town, or staying in a resort or vacation rental, it is imperative that you know where your toddler is at all times and employ several layers of protection. Here are some of those layers parents can put in place:
- Get into the habit of always locking doors and windows, even ones to your lanai or backyard that you may not usually think of locking from a security perspective. Kids watch and mimic what we do, and it’s easy for them to figure out how to open a door and get out.
- Install or turn on an alarm system that will alert you if a door or window is opened. Although it may be tempting to disable that annoying “beep,” this alert can be truly lifesaving. If you do not normally have kids in your home, consider arming the alarms when little ones come to visit.
- Designate a child watcher to keep eyes on the child at all times, even in crowded situations. Often when you have a house full of family and friends, everyone thinks someone else is watching the kids, which makes it easy for everyone to drop the ball.
- Install pool fences with self-closing gates and ensure they are always locked. This is important even if you don’t have young children at home or if everyone in your house can swim. Keeping your pool behind locked gates can prevent a visiting child or one who wanders over from a different house from falling in your pool.
- Store all pool toys, tools and buckets away when they are not in use. If children see a fun toy floating on a pool or lying on the deck, they may run out go and get it. Also keep all buckets, inflatable pools and other containers empty of water and upside down.
- Learn or become certified in CPR and First Aid procedures. You never know when this knowledge can help save a life.
- Learn how to swim. Ensure that your children are taught to swim at the earliest age possible. This is one of the best steps you can take to ensure their safety.
- In open water, make sure your children (and you) are wearing U.S. Coastguard-approved life jackets. Floaties and armbands are not recommended. Not only do they not save lives, they can contribute to a false sense of confidence in the water.
- Lastly—if a child is missing, ALWAYS search for them in any nearby bodies of water first. Most parents look under beds or in closets and other hiding spaces. If you have a pool or pond nearby, look there first. The first few minutes after a drowning are crucial.
Register for FREE Safety Events!
BayCare Kids Under the Sea safety events are free to attend, although registration is required. The sessions teach water safety, bicycle and pedestrian safety and car seat safety, and include a physical activity, snack and craft. Hillsborough County residents who are at least 6 months old can qualify for swim lesson vouchers. You must provide proof of eligibility to get a voucher.
See www.familysupporthc.org to register for an upcoming session.
MORE Swimming Lessons in Tampa Bay:
- YMCA Swim Lessons: Various locations throughout Tampa Bay
- Watermelon Swim: South Tampa, Lutz, Wesley Chapel and Riverview
*Presented by BayCare | Originally published in the May 2023 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine. Updated May 23, 2023.