By Steven Monacelli
As a society, we often operate in everyday life from a point of distraction. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving down the road and you’re sending a text message, or you’re cooking dinner while also helping your kid with their homework. People these days are often doing more than one thing at a time. The problem is people do the same thing when they’re at the pool with their kids and they’re just distracted. And it’s a recipe for absolute disaster.
Drowning remains a leading cause of accidental death in preschoolers, only outpaced by birth defects. In 2021, Children’s Health in Dallas recorded 96 drowning incidents and 11 drowning fatalities in their facility alone. Most of the drownings occurred in backyard pools, and for 67% of the drownings an adult was present. In 2022, there have already been 60 drowning incidents and 3 fatalities reported at Children’s.
These sorts of statistics are why the Dallas YMCA and Children’s Health entered into a partnership a little over 20 years ago to create an awareness campaign to help promote behavior change around water. Just because drowning is somewhat common doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.
“Children’s Health and the Y have been collaborating since the early 2000’s,” said Jesus Alderete, program manager of the Know Before You Go water safety program at Children’s Health. “We did this by looking at our data and identifying communities who would benefit from these programs the most. Our goal was to provide water safety awareness to high-risk communities. This was accomplished by hosting focus groups and learning more about the community’s experiences in and around the water.”
Those focus groups resulted in the creation of the Make-A-Splash program and the Safety Around Water programs. Through the Make-A-Splash program, lifeguards with the YMCA provide free swimming lessons to target apartment complexes. The Safety Around Water program provides parents and children with basic swim and water survival skills. Staff from Children’s Health Every collaborate with the Y to host mock drowning events to just how fast and silent drownings occur, and how to prevent them.
“We tell parents that unless their eyes are on the water, you’re not going to see them,” says Jennifer Pewitt, Associate Vice President of Aquatics & Special Needs at the Dallas YMCA. “It’s been dramatized by the media and people think that drowning is this really active event. It doesn’t matter whether you are an elite swimmer that has a medical event during swim practice, or it’s your two year old. Drowning happens the same way. It’s quick, it’s silent. It happens just below the surface.”
Pewitt says the YMCA takes a three-pronged approach. First, education about how drowning really works. Second, employing practices like having a Water Watcher at pool parties. And the third step is formal swimming lessons, which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says reduces a child’s rise of drowning by 88%.
“Parents should know their child’s abilities in and around the water,” Alderete told DW. “Having the right equipment means a US Coast Guard approved life jacket that fits based on weight, with all the buckles secured. Parents are encouraged to enroll their children in swim classes and learn CPR. If families have access to a backyard pool, then make sure all windows and doors that lead to the pool are locked, including doggie doors. And if a child is missing, they should always look in the pool followed by the car, then inside the home.”
Alderete also emphasized that families without backyard pools can still be at risk of drowning and says parents should always supervise their young children during bath time.
To become water smart, parents and caregivers can receive tips by texting “water” to 77444. To learn more about water safety, visit www.knowbeforeyougo.org. To learn more about swimming resources at the YMCA, visit www.ymcadallas.org.