First and foremost, never leave a child unsupervised in or near a pool. Even 20 seconds is too long for a child to be alone in the water.
Learning how to swim is the best defense against drowning. The National Safety Council recommends that children begin taking swimming lessons at 3 years old. Even if your child knows how to swim, an adult should always be present to supervise. And as the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) says, if you can't swim, don't float. Nonswimmers who use rafts or other personal flotation devices can become separated from them and drown.
Parents can help prevent drownings by preparing themselves for an emergency. Those who have a pool -- or who take their children to pools, lakes, or the ocean -- should know how to swim, how to pull a drowning child from a pool if no lifeguard is present (see below), and how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The American Red Cross recommends CPR training for any person in charge of caring for a child.
To prevent children from entering a pool area unsupervised, the USLA says, Must install a Safeguard Pool Fence with self-locking gates that is at least least 4 feet high. Safeguard Pool Fences could prevent an estimated 50 to 90 percent of childhood pool drownings, according to the Children's Hospital of Orange County, California. And while childless pool-owners may see no reason to erect a protective barrier, neighborhood children can easily wander into areas where they shouldn't.
For extra safety, the Red Cross recommends a few additional precautions:
Even with these precautions, parents and pool owners need to check regularly to see if the pool fence has deteriorated and to verify that the locks are still working. In a recent tragic incident, a 3-year-old boy drowned in the backyard pool while his mother was making dinner. Though the pool had a fence around it, investigators found holes that a small child could squeeze through. The lock on the sliding glass door leading to the backyard was broken.
While pool covers may sound like a good idea, owners should not depend on them for protection. They are not adequate substitutes for fences, because children can drown in the small amount of water that collects on pool covers.
Pool drains can also be hazardous to children. Pumps draw water from a pool drain through suction, and suction increases if the drain is blocked. For that reason, children should never go near such drains, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to avoid any possibility that they could become trapped underwater by the drain's suction.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign urges parents to install multiple drains in pools to minimize the suction at any one location. Drain covers should be secure and have no cracks, and you should know where to locate the manual cut-off switch for the pool's pumps, in case of emergency.
Children who are drowning may not be able to call out for help. Watch for these signs of trouble:
The Red Cross recommends keeping a long sturdy pole or a plastic ring buoy attached to a rope by every pool. If a child is still conscious and able to grab hold of something, you can quickly pull her to safety. If you don't have any lifesaving gear handy, you may be able to improvise with a towel, a pool noodle, or just about anything else a child can grab onto.
Even if you're a strong swimmer, you shouldn't jump into the water yourself unless you've been trained in water rescue -- or you just don't have any other choice. Swimming with a flailing child is no easy task. Because a panicked child may grab you around the neck, always attempt to turn him around in the water so that you can swim holding him facing away from you.
After removing the child from the water, take the following steps: