Why Drowning Prevention?
On July 6, 2018 I witnessed a child drown on a Chicago beach. It was fast, it was silent, it was so tragically final, and the "what-ifs" will forever haunt me. I have since joined forces with advocates across the country to raise awareness and increase public infrastructure that will change the horrifying statistics of this remarkably prevalent, yet preventable, death.
This page has two parts, water safety for young children and water safety on the Great Lakes. While many elements are part of the drowning prevention matrix, layers of protection connect them all.
Layers of Protection
If one layer fails, the others will make the difference.
Always be vigilant.
It's not a LACK in supervision, but a LAPSE in supervision that puts children at risk.
Pools should have a fence with a self-latching and self-closing gate.
Use a personal water immersion alarm for your child.
Install a surface disturbance alarm for your pool.
Consider alarms on your doors and gates.
Remove Dog Doors
Remove or find self-locking dog doors for the extra layer of protection.
Skill the Child
Choose a swim program that teaches your child to roll on their back and float independently.
on Open Water
Verify the life jacket you purchased will float your child face up.
Why Parents Need to Ask This Question Before Playdates
I witnessed a drowning and was shocked at how quickly and silently it unfolded. Before we truly understood what was happening, it was too late. Soon after, I realized the real risk my own children faced and now ask this question before every playdate.
We Need To Stop Thinking Drowning Couldn’t Happen To Us
There's a stigma that surrounds drownings, like somehow the victim deserved it for entering the water or the caregivers should have known better. But a close look at our own lives, and we will see that drowning can happen to us, and only layers of protection can protect our children.
Drowning doesn't look like drowning
Had my husband, a trained rescue diver, not alerted me, I would not have known the kids were drowning. There was no thrashing, no waving hands, no screams. I just saw a head, tiled back, with hair covering the face bobbing in the waves. The other child had already submerged before anyone even recognized she was in distress. If you see a drowning victim, call 911, call out to them that help is coming, help them control their panic, and instruct to flip and float to conserve energy while someone else goes for something that floats to throw to the victim.
Know what to do if you are trapped in a current
The evening we watched helplessly from the beach when a child submerged and hope lost it's battle with time, there was nothing available that floated, other would-be-rescuers needed rescuing themselves from the impossible waves, and emergency rescue teams took half an hour to respond due to unmarked beaches making the victim difficult to locate. Sometimes, the only thing you can do to survive is hang on a little longer. We were able to rescue one child that night. Water safety experts suggest learning and practicing the mantra: Flip, Float, and Follow.
Great Lakes Drownings,
a neglected Public Health Issue
The number one reason your healthy child will not survive to start kindergarten is drowning.
Drowning remains the leading cause of unintentional injury death for children aged one to 14, and as children reach the 15-25 age group, drowning rates triple and usually occur in open water.
Childhood drowning is strongly associated with lack of adequate supervision. Twenty-nine percent of caregivers failed to provide appropriate supervision for their children under 5-years-old at the beach. Almost half of caregivers did not provide close supervision for their 5–9-year-olds. Many older children frequent our Chicago beaches without any adult supervision. These parents love their children, they just don't know.
Yet, every time we hear a tragic drowning story, we immediately blame the victim or the caregiver.
We must stop with the twisted Darwinistic thoughts. No child deserves to die. Especially when our culture does not properly educate or equip the public to protect themselves from a leading killer.
We have a known hazard on public parks taking the lives of children (and adults), even during daylight summer hours. It is time we coordinate agencies, including governmental, to confront that stigma and fulfill our duty to public safety, especially on public land.
Learn more about the drowning that opened my eyes to our remarkably under resourced beaches here:
Halle and other water safety experts explain why our Lakefront Water Safety matters and how we can all take measures to stay safe in this WTTW segment.
Halle and other water safety experts explain the specific dangers of Lake Michigan and how to recognize a drowning victim on this episode of NewsViews.