Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

June 2021

YMCA Examines Generational, Racial Inequities in Water Safety Education

YMCA of the USA released new data that highlights the personal experiences and barriers parents face when it comes to swimming and water safety. The data, collected from a diverse set of U.S. parents, including black, LatinX/Hispanic and other population segments, shows that nine in 10 parents see swimming as a key life skill for children—on par with first aid skills and the ability to prepare a meal. A deeper dive uncovers the impact of unique generational and racial inequities when it comes to ensuring all parents and children are safe and confidence around water, whether it's at the pool or waterpark, or on the beach.

According to the CDC, drowning rates for black people are disproportionately higher than that of white people across all age groups, a rate that has remained largely unchanged. Additionally, according to a national research study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation with the University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 60% of African-American children and 45% of Hispanic children cannot swim, compared to 40% of Caucasian children.

New data from Y-USA underscores that, while affordability and accessibility are major barriers for parents across racial and ethnic backgrounds, black parents surveyed are more likely than other U.S. parents surveyed to associate bodies of water and water activities with negative feelings, including caution, anxiety and fear.

The Y-USA survey also found that while a majority of parents show interest in signing up for water safety programs, one in two parents believe water safety classes are expensive, and nearly three in 10 (32%) state that water safety isn't a priority due to affordability concerns. This concern around affordability is especially high among LatinX/Hispanic parents (36%) in comparison to other groups, including black parents and a segmentation of the U.S. parent population surveyed.

Black parents are 1.6 times more likely, in comparison with the general U.S. parent population surveyed, to report having low confidence with water or water activities. This corresponds with supporting data that 44% of black parents self-report to have only beginner or no swimming abilities, a nearly 20 percentage point difference in comparison to the overall U.S. parent population and subset of LatinX/Hispanic parents surveyed.

Nine in 10 U.S. parents see swimming as a key life skill for children. Black parents surveyed are less likely to encourage their children's participation in water activities. Nearly 60% of black parents have negative associations toward lakes, rivers, beaches or the ocean, and 40% have negative sentiments toward pools.

Parents also rank swimming and water safety skills as more important than being proficient in STEM, arts and music, team sports or wilderness survival.

"We know from the USA Swimming Foundation that if a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13% chance that their child will learn how to swim. However, we must analyze this data point in the context of American history," said Lindsay Mondick, director of innovative priorities at YMCA of the USA. "There is a history of exclusion associated with swimming pools, in particular, that has contributed to some of the racial inequalities we see in data associated with drownings. With a footprint as significant as the Y's, it is our responsibility to help break down those barriers and engage in these conversations to ultimately address the impact of these inequities, including fears, stressors and behaviors that black and LatinX/Hispanic adults in particular have with water."

The Y offers two programs intended to help children have fun, be confidence and stay safe in the water, including swim lessons from 6 months to adults, and a specific drowning prevention class.

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