1. Opinion

Column: Alarming increase in children drowning

,A fence is installed around the pool for a Tampa home. Times 2000
Published Mar. 15


Special to the Times

In 2017, four children drowned in Hillsborough County. In 2018, the number spiked to an alarming 15 – an increase of 275 percent. More children under the age of six died from drowning in pools, ponds, lakes and bathtubs than any other preventable cause in Hillsborough. As a community, we can and we must do more.

Sadly, I've had to perform autopsies on babies who drowned in bathtubs because they were unsupervised for a very short period of time, and on toddlers who quietly walked out by the pool and drowned when a caretaker looked away for just one moment. In some cases, the pool safety fence was broken or the door alarm didn't work.

It only takes 20 seconds for a child to begin to drown, and supervision is the single best method of prevention. In the few minutes that parents and caregivers shift their attention from the young child to preparing meals, answering the door, or to care for another child, that young child can wander off and drown.

Even one preventable child death is too many. Accidental drownings can and do happen to attentive, caring parents. Acknowledging that these types of accidents can affect any family can help parents, caregivers and friends realize that extra steps need to be taken to keep children safe.

For example, install alarms that alert loudly when a child opens an exterior door, and have yard and pool fencing erected to prevent children from readily accessing water. These alerts and barriers are backups to vigilant supervision. Importantly, when children go missing, search nearby pools and bodies of water first.

Assign a designated "water watcher" anytime children are playing in pools or at the beach. Despite Hollywood portrayals, infants and toddlers don't usually splash or cry out when they drown. They often drown silently, without any warning. A water watcher should keep their eyes on children in the water and not allow distractions like cellphones or other amusements to divert their attention.

Understand that there are hidden hazards everywhere, from a pet's water bowl to a toilet. Crawling babies and toddlers can drown in as little as an inch of water, and their disproportionately heavy heads make self-extrication extremely difficult. Know that you can easily play a role in helping to keep kids safe by asking parents and caregivers of young children to take action today to prevent accidental drownings.

Dr. Kelly Devers is Hillsborough County's chief medical examiner.


  1.  Jim Morin -- Morin Toons Syndicate
  2. Career Foreign Service officer George Kent and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, right, are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington. JOSHUA ROBERTS  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Friday’s letters to the editor.
  3. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on the first day of the annual sixty day session, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed a joint session of the Florida Legislature Tuesday in Tallahassee.  SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Florida Legislature appears determined to pass legislation requiring parental consent.
  4. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  5. A house for rent in St. Petersburg.  [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times] SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN  |  Susan Taylor Martin
    The City Council has afforded renters more protections from discrimination and unjustified late fees.
  6. Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Thursday’s letters to the editor.
  7. Leonard Pitts undefined
    No controversy ever ends quietly on social media, writes Leonard Pitts.
  8. In this Oct. 11, 2018, photo, rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. GERALD HERBERT  |  AP
    While it is too late to stop global warming, we can prevent it from getting worse, two scientists write.
  9. Florida's toll roads
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wednesday’s letters to the editor.
  10. President Donald Trump talks to the media before leaving the White House, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) MANUEL BALCE CENETA  |  AP
    President Donald Trump’s conduct is the issue as House begins public phase of impeachment inquiry.