Feature Article - January 2017
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Heads Above Water

Lessons, Programs & Technology Help Prevent Drownings

By Deborah L. Vence


Water Safety Programs

Any opportunity to share water safety information with children and families outside of the water is a successful venture.

"The more we can discuss water safety, how to be safer in and around the water, and the importance of learning to swim with children and families, the more likely they are to act upon the messaging, and the safer they will be," Dessart said.

"There are a multitude of ways to educate children and their families (presentations, storybooks, hands-on activities, etc.)," she said, "and there are also a number of agencies who now have formal programs in place: Safer 3 Water Safety Foundation, the YMCA of the USA, the American Red Cross, Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation, Swim Lessons University and the Boy Scouts of America, to name a few."

For example, the USA Swimming Foundation's Make a Splash initiative is a national child-focused water safety campaign, which aims to provide the opportunity for every child in America to learn to swim. Through Make a Splash, the USA Swimming Foundation partners with learn-to-swim providers and water safety advocates across the country to provide swimming lessons and educate children and their families on the importance of learning how to swim.

The Aquatic Safety Research Group's Note & Float program, aimed at preventing drowning at aquatic facilities throughout the country, not only prevents drowning, but also reduces water rescues, increases swim lesson enrollments, increases attendance and customer satisfaction, Griffiths said.

The program targets parents with children who cannot swim. And, the heart of the program involves identifying all non-swimmers who enter the facility, and then "floating" those swimmers with an appropriately sized life jacket.

In another example, the WHALE Tales program through the American Red Cross enables anyone to become an aquatic leader and teach community water safety courses. WHALE is an acronym that stands for Water Habits Are Learned Early. The program is designed to raise children's (K-6) awareness of safe behavior in, on and around the water. You don't need a pool to offer the program. The program is taught in many schools and summer camps, as well as during swim lessons.

"With the WHALE Tales program, the beauty is that it allows anyone to become an aquatic leader in their community; not a large certification is needed. It's more educational," Ramos said.

In fact, Katchmarchi said he has been using the WHALE Tales program for a long time to teach children water safety. He added that the Safer 3 Water Safety Foundation recently released a newly revised curricula and program materials that are "outstanding."

"Many of the foundations and organizations under the umbrella of Families United to Prevent Drowning have resources such as coloring books, story books, videos and informative guides on water safety available," he said. "Additionally, another great educational program has been the Pool Safely Campaign from the Consumer Product Safety Commission."

Ramos and his colleagues on the Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council have developed the Circle of Drowning Prevention and the Chain of Drowning Survival in order to raise awareness of the most important steps that people can take to reduce the number of preventable drownings.

Ramos also mentioned that the free American Red Cross Swim App has features specifically designed for children, including a variety of kid-friendly games, videos and quizzes. Water safety information for parents for a variety of aquatic environments (pools, waterparks and beaches) also is included.

Another program, the American Red Cross Junior Lifeguarding Program, is designed for youth ages 11 to 15 who are interested in strengthening their skills and preparing for a future lifeguarding course once they are old enough to enroll.

The Lifeguarding suite of programs is designed for those ages 15 and older who want to gain the knowledge and skills required to become a professional rescuer. The program includes training in water rescue skills, first aid and professional-level CPR/AED.

In addition, specialty modules are available for those who want to work at waterparks, waterfronts or facilities with aquatic attractions. The Waterpark Skills module covers preventing and responding to emergencies in aquatic facilities with waterpark features, and the Aquatic Attraction Lifeguarding course is designed for areas with water depths of 3 feet or less.