Saturday, February 24, 2018
Opinion

Column: Ending the silence of youth drowning

With school out, children are descending on our pools, lakes and beaches to partake in a coveted summertime activity: swimming. So as we head into these summer months, the Tampa Bay community needs to be aware of the alarming statistics associated with youth drownings.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of death among children ages 4 and younger in the United States. It weighs heavily on me that Florida leads the nation in youth drownings with more than 400 deaths reported across the state in 2014. Locally, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue reported 43 deaths caused by drowning last year — 20 of which involved children under the age of 11. Moreover, the results of a new study by the University of Michigan show that one in three parents are fine with children under 6 years of age swimming without supervision.

These numbers are staggering and simply unfathomable — because youth drowning is preventable.

As a county commissioner, I have witnessed how the needs of our community are met by creating valuable partnerships with organizations and nonprofits. This is why I have collaborated with local organizations such as Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, YMCA and Head Start to implement the Swimmer Safety Pilot Program to reduce these alarming statistics, teach kids water safety procedures, and prevent youth drowning.

Parents and caretakers of young swimmers can minimize youth drowning by always supervising children in and around water. Likewise, a child should never enter a pool area unaccompanied by a guardian. It's also important and required by Florida law to install pool barriers as a safety feature to block children from entering the pool. The Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act (Chapter 515, Florida Statutes) requires one of the following pool safety measures for pools built after Oct. 1, 2000:

• A pool fence with self-closing, self-latching gate — enclosing the pool and providing no direct access to it.

• An approved safety pool cover.

• Alarms on all doors and windows leading out to the pool.

• All doors providing direct access from the home to pool to have a self-closing, self-latching device with a release mechanism no lower than 54 inches above the floor.

In case of a water emergency or worst-case scenario, at least one parent or adult should know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and have a phone nearby to call 911.

As a father of two young children, I find the very thought of losing a child to drowning heartbreaking. I urge parents and members of our community to end the silence on youth drowning by educating themselves on prevention, learning the signals of drowning, and engaging children with swimming safety initiatives. By doing so, we can all work together to help protect and save the lives of our young children.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan is an advocate for youth drowning prevention in Hillsborough and throughout Florida. He established a countywide swimmer safety pilot program to bring awareness to youth drowning, and was recently honored with the dedication of Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center's "Ken Hagan Learn-to-Swim" Community Pool for his efforts. He was elected to the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners in 2002 and has been re-elected subsequently.

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