New Research Says Caregivers Should Expand Supervision Skills to Prevent Child Drownings

On average, there are 11 deaths due to drowning in the United States every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1 through 4. In light of this, a researcher from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has published guidance to help caregivers prevent drownings.

Lead author David Schwebel, Ph.D., associate vice president for Research Facilities and Infrastructure at UAB, said that in most cases, there is a decreased risk of drowning when the traditional techniques for drowning prevention—attention, proximity and continuity—are used. But he and his co-authors propose that a fourth dimension should be added: competency.

“Competency means knowing how to save a child’s life,” Schwebel said. “Driving provides a simple example: If a parent is competent to drive, they do not crash their car and a child sitting in a car seat will stay safe. Near water, competency is more complicated.”

Such competency might include knowing how to swim, how to rescue a drowning child and, if necessary, how to administer CPR. In an emergency, such competency could add valuable, lifesaving seconds in the event of a drowning.  

Schwebel, director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that competency also includes a caregiver’s knowledge of the Drowning Chain of Survival, especially in environments where a lifeguard is not present.

“In the injury prevention field, we have always focused on supervision of children by thinking about three dimensions: attention (how attentively are you watching the child); proximity (how close are you to the child); and continuity (are you watching the child constantly, intermittently or not at all),” Schwebel said. “These dimensions are still important, and they work well for locations like the playground, but near water, we also need to think about the fourth dimension of competency.”

How does this affect aquatic facilities? Those who provide aquatic swim programs should incorporate training for adult supervisors, according to Schwebel and his co-authors. Encourage caregivers to attend first aid and CPR training. You also can use your social media platforms to share information on these important drowning prevention strategies.