What do we love about living in South Florida? The year-round, summer-like weather is a good reason. However, with the blessings also come the responsibilities. With access to pools, oceans, and canals we are in an environment where those who are not “Water Smart” can suffer serious consequences.
Drowning is one of the two top causes of death for children 5 and younger in Broward County (the other is unsafe sleep practices). For every child who dies from drowning, four more suffer life-long injuries that cause severe emotional and financial stress. Most importantly, drowning is preventable. That is why the SWIMS Foundation, the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, SWIM Central, the Department of Health, the YMCA, Pediatrics Associates, and many others integrate the Water Smart Broward Campaign. Each one of these organizations brings resources that help children and adults be safer in and around water.
What are the most important things to remember about water safety? First and foremost: adult supervision. Taking ownership of one’s child’s safety is the best thing any parent or responsible caregiver can do to avoid a drowning incident. Anyone who has taken care of a toddler, however, knows that constant supervision is nearly impossible. Being water smart includes creating barriers between the child and the body of water, such as:
• Installing child proof doors and locks, with handles at least 5’ high
• Installing alarms on access doors to all water environments
• Installing a four-sided pool fence
• Learning CPR and other rescue techniques.
Often, when a child is missing, the caregiver will search many locations, while the most important thing to do is to “Check the Water First!” When a drowning occurs, seconds count. So, whether it’s the pool, lake, canal, or even the tub… checking the water first is the rule of thumb. If a child is found submerged, immediately call 9-1-1. If more than one person is available to help, one should call 9-1-1 while another administers CPR.
Tragically, drownings often occur at a pool or other waterfront activities like children’s parties where everyone assumes someone else is watching. It is imperative to always appoint a water watcher, a responsible adult who will focus on the children in and around the water and make sure they are carefully supervised. Never trust another child with that responsibility or devices such as arm bracelets or rings. The latter are toys, not lifesaving devices.
Drowning accidents can happen to anyone. Many parents who lost a child to drowning never thought it could happen to them. Children, especially toddlers who easily and quickly leave a safe, supervised area unnoticed, need capable, close, and constant supervision.
Through funding from the CSC, Broward County residents can take advantage of low or no-cost water safety instruction for children 6-months through 4-years-old. By simply going to www.watersmartbroward.org anyone can ask for a coupon worth $40 redeemable at any number of aquatic centers in Broward. The SWIMS Foundation provides similar $50 value coupons for adults who wish to learn how to swim. These can also be redeemed on the Water Smart Broward website, as well as www.swimsfouondation.org.
Children who attend public schools can take advantage of the Swim Central program available to all kindergarten and first-grade students. Parents or guardians should look for a permission slip being sent home, sign off and make sure that on designated days the child goes to school with proper swimwear and a towel. With CSC funding, bus transportation provided by Broward County Schools and the support of Broward County Parks & Recreation, this program is free and it is available to all children in public school. It would be foolish not to take advantage of it, even if for this simple reason: since its start in 1999, more than three million lessons were given and only one child who has participated in the program has drowned.
For more information on the Water Smart Broward program and Swim Central, call 954-377-SWIM or 2-1-1. Let’s all be smarter about living in South Florida, enjoy the benefit of year-round beautiful weather and learn lifesaving skills that can help avoid needless tragedies.
Andrew Leon is the assistant director of Communications and Outreach, CSC Broward President, SWIMS Foundation.