Little kids who live in a home with a swimming pool are at risk of drowning — to such a degree that it’s now a leading cause of injury death among toddlers.

It turns out that there are three likely scenarios that precede the drowning of a very young child (ages 1 to 4) in an at-home swimming pool.

baby in the swimming pool with mom

Drowning a clear and present danger

Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States, according to the CDC. There are about 10 drowning deaths per day, and about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.

For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. The CDC also says that more than 50% of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization or transfer for further care. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state).

>> Toddlers who take swimming lessons are less likely to drown

In the study, “Patterns of Drowning in Young Children,” researchers reviewed Orange County, Calif., Coroner data from 2000 to 2007 to examine the circumstances prior to an at-home pool drowning, in the hopes of crafting messages to prevent future deaths.

Information on 46 drownings was reviewed, including incident site, barriers and pool access, supervision, emergency preparedness and response, and family/social history.

The most common drowning scenarios

In general, more of the younger children (ages 1 and 2) were last seen in the house prior to the drowning (67 percent), while the older children (ages 3 and 4) were more often last seen in or near the water (69 percent). In addition, three specific patterns emerged:

  • toddlers-swimming-poolA 1- or 2-year-old child who was last seen in the house, most often under the supervision of a parent or caregiver who was distracted with household or childcare activities, or in a changed daily routine.
  • A 3- or 4-year-old child who was in or near the water just prior to drowning.
  • A 1- or 2-year-old child last seen outside, often with more neglectful supervision and environments.

“Most of the 1- to 2-year-olds were able to access the pool without the adult supervisor realizing it. That’s why pool fencing is critical,” said lead study author Phyllis Agran, MD, FAAP.

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Any home pool should have a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate in good condition, which is never left open.

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“When in the pool or playing outside around the pool, hands-on supervision is necessary,” Dr Agran said. “Older children who drown were more often outside with inadequate supervision.” Dr Agran also said that parents may overestimate their child’s abilities to be safe around water. Teaching children water safety and to swim will also help to reduce risk.

“First and foremost, however, is pool fencing so children cannot gain access to the pool by themselves,” said Dr Agran. If possible, parents should not have a home with a swimming pool in the yard until the child is older than 5 years.


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