JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More children drown between the months of May and August than any other time of the year. While no parent or relative ever thinks it could happen to their family, Florida has more young children who die from drowning than any other state in the country.
So much so, according to the latest statistics from the Florida Department of Health, there are enough children under the age of 5 lost to drowning to fill three or four preschool classrooms.
We have had a spate of drownings and near-drownings in local retention ponds and pools in the last several months, including a 1-year-old girl found in a pond near a Westside apartment complex in June, and last week, at the same complex, a young girl was found unresponsive in the community pool -- both survived.
But parents may be unaware of other drowning risks hidden inside their homes.
Buckets of water
Jessica Winberry, injury prevention coordinator for Wolfson Children’s Hospital, said so many children have drowned in buckets filled with water, that 5-gallon buckets are marked with a warning about the risk.
She walked through a local home pointing out drowning dangers that are less known and stopped at a bucket half-filled with water.
“A small child comes over to look in the bucket and they’re so top-heavy they fall into the bucket and they don’t have the length to put their feet on the ground and pull themselves out,” explained Winberry.
The heaviest part of a child’s body is their head, and young children are often drawn to any kind of water. Buckets left outside may fill with rain water and inside are used to mop floors.
Toddlers and young children are naturally curious and tend to wander around the house. Watching water inside a toilet swirl and then disappear can fascinate them enough to get closer than they should.
“Sometimes they even may put things in the toilet to watch it swirl around or even stick their hand in there,” explained Winberry. “But again, they’re very top-heavy so if they’re looking into that toilet they could fall in and they’re not able to get themselves out.”
Parents should install toilet lid locks to prevent toilet bowl drownings or can add special locks to the door leading to the bathroom preventing children from entering.
Parents tend to think a kiddie pool is a safe place for a young child to play unattended because it doesn’t hold very much water, but a child can drown in just 1-2 inches of water.
Winberry wants parents to remember that a young child may not be strong enough to lift their head if they fall forward.
These pools should be emptied and turned over when not being used to avoid rainwater from gathering and becoming a drowning risk.
The same danger applies to bathtubs. Winberry said young children have died because a parent has left the room for just a minute while the child played in the bathtub with an older sibling.
“A sibling is not a good supervisor of a baby or a small child,” Winberry said. “We cannot count on that older sibling to take care of that child.”
A young child should never be left alone in a bathtub either.
Toys in Pool
Most parents understand the drowning risks associated with pools, but few may realize they are making a mistake when they leave pool toys in the water when no one is swimming.
These can entice a young child to get closer when their parent is unaware and fall in while reaching for a toy.
“Remember drowning is a silent event, kids are not thrashing and screaming and calling for help, they slip under the water and we typically don’t hear them,” said Winberry.
Layers of Protection
No one single barrier works 100% of the time. Winberry said parents should never count on just one barrier to protect their child from drowning.
Oftentimes, she said, a visitor to the home may forget to close a bathroom door or door that leads to a pool, or to latch a fence around a pool, which is why multiple layers of protection are the best way to protect your child.
“No one is immune from drowning, even the best swimmer can drown in certain conditions,” she explained.
Parents tend to rely on flotation devices in place of supervising their child in a pool. These can attach to a child’s arms or around their waist, but Winberry said if they are not certified by the U.S. Coast Guard then they are not considered a life-saving device and should not be treated as one. Look for the USCG stamp along with a series of numbers that indicate it’s certified.
Test your child’s survival swim skills
Injury Prevention Coordinator Jessica Winberry said there are five steps parents should follow to test their child’s ability to survive if they get into trouble in the water:
- Child needs to be able to step or jump into water that is over their head and return to the surface
- Child needs to be able to tread water for one minute
- Child should be able to swim 25 yards to the pool exit
- Child should be able to exit the pool without using a ladder
- Child should be taught to never swim alone
This time of year, pool parties are a common activity. These tend to give adults a false sense of security that if there are multiple people in the pool, then there is no risk of drowning. This is not true.
Winberry said several children have drowned attending a pool party where adults are all around. A water watcher should always be designated when one or more children are in the water. This person’s sole job is to watch the swimmers, not talk to anyone, not look at their phone or read a magazine.
One more reminder, learning CPR gives you the skills you need to help save a child who falls into the water.