Thursday, March 27, 2008

Swimming Death

A story we ran on WHOI-TV this week has been very upsetting. A 13-year-old boy drowned in the central Illinois city of Bloomington. He was found at the bottom of the deep end and the coroner says he was there for several minutes before anyone saw him. There were 46 kids in the pool for a Boys and Girl's Club event and one lifeguard.

I have no idea the circumstances surrounding this case and would never pass judgement, but I was surprised to learn this fact: According to the Department of Public Health in Illinois, the state only requires one lifeguard per 100 kids. Is that reasonable? It sounds like a lot of kids for one person to watch. What if more than one of them drowns at the same time? What do you think about the requirements? What would be a reasonable ratio if your child was at a pool party?

According to the Drowning Prevention Foundation, 19% of drowning deaths occur at public pools where lifeguards are present.

In 2004, an average of nine people per day died by drowning according the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


Diane Vespa said...

I never let my kids swim anywhere without me there! I simply will not rely on the attentiveness of another person to keep my children alive. It rules out a lot of summer camp situations but so be it!

Anonymous said...

Swim lessons are looking better all the time. There is a lot of water in this world and kids are drawn to it. Please make sure your kids learn how to swim. A 13 year old boy should know how to swim. Chances are the lifeguard was only 3 years older than the victim. We are putting a lot of responsibility in the hands of other kids when we are talking about lifeguards, they are usually 16 to 18 years old and work for minimum wage. Even our local high schools that have pools do not require swimming anymore for P.E. a tragedy. It is very difficult to even hire enough lifeguards to staff a public pool these days. In the past fifteen years or so park districts have shifted to zero depth water play parks rather than standard depth pools and the result has been a whole generation of kids that will grow up having spent time enjoying public pools and never learning to swim. Remember when the only way to really have fun at the public pool involved actually being able to swim? You had to pass a simple swimming test just to use the diving well? If you wanted to enjoy your time at the pool you found a way to pass that test, doggy paddle or whatever, you learned to swim just to have fun. We have been and are failing our kids in this area. There should be a huge push to make sure kids learn to swim! Something good can perhaps come from this tragedy and it will not be in the form of more regulations on pool safety it would be more focus on learn to swim programs.

Maria said...

A couple of points--

Re: swimming lessons-- while helpful, they do not prevent all cases of drowning. For that matter, in some cases, parents become complacent-- after all, the child knows how to swim-- with their supervision.

As for the lifeguard ratio-- I think it depends on age. If there are small children, definitely more like 1 lifeguard (plus parents) per four kids or so. On average, I think that 1 per 10 or 15 is reasonable. 1 per 100 is very unreasonable, IMO.

For my son-- at his age, he can "swim" when I am there or someone I approve. However, I expect this to change some with age.

Rixblix said...

What an awful tragedy. I'm sure the parents and caregivers are second guessing their every move. And as difficult as it is to grasp, bad things happen...accidents. My husband and I find ourselves walking the fine line between being over-protective and letter our children spread their wings.

We've found it helpful to teach our boys to know their limits. Swimming and being at the public pool is a great place for this. I watch them and let them explore but also remind them that there are things that they just aren't ready swimming all day in the deep end. We also have the good fortune to have a week long sleep away camp that the boys have attended for 3 years. It's difficult to put them in the care of someone else for that length of time, but we just can't keep them from growing and exploring their personal limits. My boys are vigilant (as vigilant as a 9 and 12 year old can be) about their surroundings and don't often feel safe when there are masses of people around or when their peers are doing things my kids know are dangerous.

My husband spent his teens as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at his local "Y". Some children just have no fear when it comes to dangerous situations. As parents we have to teach them to be safe but not stifle their natural and necessary curiosity.

Knight in Dragonland said...

Drowning is the number two cause of accidental death in children, second only to motor vehicle crashes.

Swimming lessons are a good idea, but too often "he knows how to swim" lulls parents into a dangerous false sense of security. NOTHING takes the place of careful adult supervision.

The 1:100 ratio is incredibly dangerous, IMO. I wouldn't trust one teenager to supervise 100 children running around an open field, let alone swimming in a pool!

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