An ounce of prevention: Pool safety lessons for kids key to avoid drownings
About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 years and younger. Here are ways you can prevent it. Wochit
Christina Freedman floated in the Bonita Springs YMCA pool Saturday. She watched as her daughter Noelle swam to an instructor.
Noelle fought to keep her head above water.
It was the 4-year-old’s fourth lesson at the YMCA. She’s learning how to swim from one end of the pool to the other — how to float on her back. Survival skills.
Swim lessons at the Bonita Springs YMCA help kids get an early start on water safety.
“That’s my deepest fear, losing a child to something that’s preventable,” Freedman said. Freedman knows that drowning is the leading cause of death in Florida for kids under the age of 5. She knows how easy it is for a child to become submerged and sink.
Enough children die in Florida each year to fill three to four preschool classrooms, according to the state.
“It’s just essential to learn,” Freedman said.
She was one of a dozen parents at the YMCA to help their kids become comfortable with the water for the Parent/Tot Swim Lessons program.
Many of the parents said the same thing: Drownings are common in Southwest Florida. It’s terrifying.
Last Monday a 4-year-old girl in East Naples drowned in a neighbor’s pool. No one had noticed Saijene Kernizan Black leave her house. That same day a 14-year-old boy nearly drowned in an Immokalee Sports Complex pool.
From 2000-16 there were 41 drowning-related deaths in Collier County among kids 1-18 years old, per provisional data from the county’s District Twenty Medical Examiner. Nearly 60 percent of those fatalities were 1- to 4-year-olds, making drowning the leading cause of death for that age group in the county.
“Teach children to never swim alone,” said Paula DiGrigoli, executive director of the NCH Safe and Healthy Children’s Coalition, which aims to prevent area drownings. “The numbers are coming down. But it still happens.”
Water safety education is key
Local officials and swimming instructors said there are several ways parents can help protect young children in the water — from the Gulf to canals and residential pools.
Early education is key. Getting kids in the water, so they can learn to float or paddle, DiGrigoli said, is pivotal.
Nikhio and Neha Dokania, of Estero, agreed. On Saturday they took their 18-month-old son Drish to Parent/Tot Swim Lessons for the first time. Neha Dokania doesn’t know how to swim herself.
“The younger they start, the better,” said Fernanda Whitney, swimming instructor for Infant Swimming Resources in Naples.
Getting kids comfortable in the water, so they can breathe regularly and not cry, is important, she said. It makes it easier for them to stay afloat.
DiGrigoli added that installing window and door alarms is important at houses with pools. Pool cages are also useful. Under Florida law, residential pools are required to have at least one safety feature — such as a pool cover, alarms or a fence surrounding the area at least 4 feet tall, among other options.
“Fences are pretty foolproof,” said Kate Kingschott, a swimming instructor for Essential Swim Lessons in Naples. Kingschott added that over 35 years, she has only heard of two cases were a young child climbed over a fence into a pool.
Life jackets are also needed, especially in the Gulf. Collier County has installed 15 life jacket loaner stations on area beaches such as Lowdermilk, Clam Pass and Vanderbilt.
Always make sure young children are swimming with an adult, DiGrigoli said. If at a pool party or other large family event, make sure a designated “pool watcher” is there for children, she added.
“People just don’t understand how easy and fast it is,” Kingschott said. “A nonswimmer is silent.”
Drowning deaths decreasing locally
Data provided by the Safe and Healthy Children’s Coalition indicates child drowning deaths in Collier are decreasing.
» According to data from Collier’s District Twenty Medical Examiner, analyzed by the coalition, there has been a 47 percent decrease in the number of fatal child drownings among 1- to 18-year-olds since the coalition was started in 2010.
» Over 60 percent of drowning victims 1 to 18 years old in the county from 2000-16 were male. About 50 percent of the drowning victims were white, a little over 30 percent were Hispanic and 17 percent were Black-Haitian. Most fatalities occurred in pools, ponds or lakes.
» The number of nonfatal trips to the emergency room for child drowning incidents has remained high. The number only slightly decreased from 2015-16.
» From 2012-16 there were 82 trips to the ER for kids 0-2 years old in Collier County in nonfatal drowning incidents. Over that four-year span, there were 192 trips for kids 0-17 years old.
» While children have drowned across the county, DiGrigoli said there tend to be more drownings in lower-income areas.
Swimming classes in Collier and south Lee counties
Greater Naples YMCA, 5450 YMCA Road, Naples, 239-591-0204 www.ymcapalms.org (Ages 4 months and up)
Greater Marco Family YMCA, 101 Sand Hill St., Marco Island, 239-394-9622 www.marcoymca.org
Sun-N-Fun Lagoon, 15000 Livingston Road, 239-252-4021 www.napleswaterpark.com (Ages 6 months and up)
Golden Gate Aquatic Facility, 3300 Santa Barbara Blvd., 239-252-6128 www.colliergov.net
Immokalee Sports Complex, 505 Escambia St., Immokalee, 239-657-1951 www.colliergov.net (Ages 5 years and up)
City of Naples – River Park Aquatic Center, 451 11th St. N., Naples, 239-213-3040 www.naplesgov.com (Ages 6 months and up)
Sky Family YMCA, 27200 Kent Road, Bonita Beach, 239-221-7560 www.swflymca.org (Ages 6 months and up)
Swimtastic Swim School (at LA Fitness), 871 Vanderbilt Beach Road, 239-260-4926 www.swimtastic.com/location/naples