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Keeping kids safe in the water

Drowning deaths can be prevented.

A few minutes, a few inches – that's all it takes for a child to drown.

Each year more than 800 U.S. children drown and many of those deaths could have been prevented, according to Safe Kids USA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drowning is the second leading cause of injury death among kids ages 1 to 14, and it's the leading cause of injury death among kids ages 1 to 4, says Ronda Lusk, Via Christi Outreach and Prevention community health coordinator and coordinator for Safe Kids Wichita Area Coalition.

Nationwide, three children die every day as a result of drowning. And for every kid that dies, another four receive emergency treatment for submersion injuries, according to the CDC.

Through learning two skills, providing active adult supervision and being vigilant with other precautions, many drowning injuries and deaths can be prevented, says Lusk.

  • Learn to swim. Formal swimming lessons can help reduce the risk of drowning – for both kids and adults. Among kids ages 1-4, the most vulnerable category of kids, the risk can be reduced by 88 percent. Most health club and public pool facilities offer swimming lessons, some even year-round. But don't assume swimming lessons make your child immune to drowning.
  • Learn infant and child CPR. Seconds count so the quicker the intervention, the better the outcomes. Check with your local American Red Cross office about CPR certification. In Wichita, call 316-219-4060.
  • Actively supervise. Drowning happens quickly and silently. Adults who were present when a child drowns often were distracted in some way – most children who drown were out of sight for less than five minutes with one or both parents present. Actively supervise a child when around water and have a phone within reach to call for help. Designate a “Water Watcher” in waterside gatherings of adults and children.
  • Put up barriers. Water is an attractive draw for young kids. Ensure you have no standing water around, such as in buckets or small kiddie pools, to entice small children. Cover and lock hot tubs when not in use. And make sure your pool has four-sided fencing and a self-closing, self-latching gate. According to the CDC, there is an 83 percent reduction in the risk of drowning with a four-sided pool fence compared to a three-sided. If you use your home as the fourth side of the pool enclosure, outfit any exits with safety locks and alarms to warn you if a child has wandered outside.
  • Use life jackets. Never use air-filled toys, including popular water wings, or noodles as safety devices. If your child can't swim, stay within arm's reach. More than 700 people drown each year in open water boating incidents and nine out of 10 were not wearing a life jacket. Have a child wear a life jacket every time you go boating or even stand dockside. Adults should avoid alcohol use, which is the contributing cause of one in five reported boating accidents. If you enjoy frequent boating, take a boating safety class offered through the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (boat-ed.com/kansas/) or the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Remember pool drains are an often-overlooked drowning hazard. The powerful suction forces can trap a child underwater or cause internal injuries, so equip pools and spas with an anti-entrapment drain cover and an automatic device that can shut off the drain's suction.
  • Don't leave toys in or near the pool. They could attract unsupervised kids.
  • Empty and store kiddie pools when not in use.
  • Keep rescue equipment, a phone and emergency numbers by the pool.

Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita is the lead organization for the Safe Kids Wichita Area Coalition, a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, which is dedicated to preventing unintentional childhood injury to children through age 14. For more information about Safe Kids Wichita, call 316-946-5045.

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