When the summer heat hits — and boy does it, here in Texas — nothing feels better than a cool dip in the water. Swimming is fun for people of all ages and is a great way to stay active. Yet, it’s crucial to remember water safety for kids during these fun-filled times. Plus, some of the best memories are made poolside, lakeside, and beachside, when we ensure our kids are safe and protected.
Unfortunately, the water is also a prime setting for accidents, especially drowning. And the younger the person, the higher the risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death between ages 5 and 14 (behind car accidents). In 2022, there were 76 fatal childhood drownings in our state. Even when it’s not fatal, drowning can lead to serious injuries including brain damage.
The good news is that drowning is entirely preventable. No matter how your family likes to splish and splash, here are eight safety tips to keep in mind.
8 Essential Tips for Uncompromising Water Safety for Kids
- Refresh your swimming skills. Kids love the water, and if you have any children in your care, you should be ready to enjoy it with them. If you don’t know how to swim, or if it’s simply been a while, it’s time to get up to speed. Children can begin lessons in infancy, and you’re never too old to learn!
Make swim lessons a family affair, ideally before summer hits. You don’t need to become an Olympic swimmer here — you just need to develop what the American Red Cross calls water competency. Find an instructor through your local rec center, private swim school or referrals from friends and neighbors.
- Swim where there is a lifeguard. Use good judgment and ensure children in your care who are younger than 12 years old, children of any age who are not competent swimmers and children receiving treatment services are protected from unsupervised access to water. This includes swimming pools, hot tubs, fountains, ponds, lakes, creeks and other bodies of water.
Sticking to lifeguarded areas will provide an extra layer of safety protection. Remember: The lifeguard’s job is not to watch every swimmer at all times, but to recognize and respond when something goes wrong in the water. Foster parents are responsible for supervising all children in any water activities, in addition to any lifeguard on duty.
- Keep a watchful eye. Always oversee children when they are near or in the water; never leave them alone. Stay within arm’s reach of young children or anyone who is not yet a confident swimmer. Eliminate any and all distractions (that means putting away your phone!). If possible, take turns with other responsible adults every 15 minutes or so, just like lifeguards change shifts.
- Wear life jackets. Put on properly sized life jackets whenever you’re boating or engaging in water sports like kayaking or paddleboarding. You need the real thing here — water wings and inner tubes are not enough to prevent a child from drowning.
- Steer clear of drains. Drains are a lesser-known hazard in pools and hot tubs, as fingers, hair, straps and jewelry can become trapped in them. Newer regulations require public facilities to install drain covers — but teach the children in your care to avoid them anyway. And don’t swim in a pool whose drain cover is broken or missing.
- Limit access and remove temptation. Backyard pools and spas pose the greatest risk for drowning, which is why physical barriers are so important. In terms of water safety for kids, if your foster home has an outdoor pool, the gates leading to the pool area must be self-closing and self-latching. Keys to open the gate must not be accessible to children who are under 12, who are not competent swimmers (regardless of age) or who are receiving treatment services.
Make sure to always close and lock the gate behind you when the pool is not in use. If you have an above-ground pool, take down the ladder so no one can climb in after hours. With a wading pool, dump it out when the fun is done and store it in a way that doesn’t hold any water.
While you’re at it, remove all toys and floating devices from the pool area too. You want to put away anything that may draw unsupervised little ones to the water.
- Learn signs of trouble. Drowning doesn’t look like the movies. It’s often silent, with little to no splashing — and it can happen very quickly. Learn what drowning looks like.
- Be ready to respond. With any water emergency, you need to act quickly. This could include notifying the lifeguard on duty, removing the person from the water and calling 911. If they are not breathing, perform CPR; both chest compressions and rescue breathing are recommended for children and victims of drowning. (All foster parents in Texas are required to be certified in CPR and first aid.)
Play It Safe
Make a splash this summer! With water safety for kids and other safety measures in place, your family can enjoy the water fun all season (and all year) long.