Experts give tips on keeping children safe around water

While swimming, boating and other water-related activities spell summertime fun for many Minnesotans, they can be dangerous for children. Watching children closely around water can help keep summer recreation safer.

The Minnesota departments of Natural Resources and Human Services are urging adults to be more aware of the danger water poses to children and what they can do to help keep kids safe.

Most drownings in Minnesota occur in lakes, ponds and streams, but children also drown in home swimming pools, spas, toilets, bathtubs and buckets. Since 2006, 34 Minnesota children have drowned; half of those were 3 years old or younger. Most drowned in lakes, ponds, creeks or pools but five children drowned in bathtubs during that time.

Drowning only takes a couple of minutes and a couple of inches of water. Many people think that children will cry out for help if they are in trouble in the water, but that often doesn’t happen. This means constant supervision is critical.

“Drowning is a silent killer,” said Tim Smalley, boat and water safety specialist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “A person – adult or child – in the process of drowning is unable to call for help. Adults need to be watching children and the water at all times. Experts recommend an adult be within an arm’s length of children around water.”

“It is critical that parents and other adults be vigilant when children are around water,” said Chuck Johnson, assistant commissioner of Children and Family Services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). “Drowning deaths are preventable.”

Each year, DHS’ Child Mortality Review Panel reviews cases of children whose deaths, many of them through drowning, could have been prevented. The panel is state mandated to look at deaths and near-fatal injuries of children that occurred in relation to maltreatment, and it makes recommendations to state and county agencies for improving child protection. Drowning deaths, particularly of young children or older children with disabilities, are reviewed each year.

“Following safety tips, particularly in being more attentive to children around water, is critical,” said Johnson.

* Never leave the bathroom when children are in the tub. Do not depend on a bath seat to safeguard children from drowning. Never rely on another child to watch children in the tub. Always drain all of the water out of the tub when finished.

* Empty all buckets, including diaper pails and place lid locks on toilets.

* Make sure at least one adult keeps children in sight whenever they are around water. Never leave children alone near water, even for a few seconds. Designate a specific adult to supervise the area.

* Be extra careful around lakes, pools and spas. Keep children away from the water unless a responsible adult is supervising. Install a 5-foot fence that completely surrounds a pool or spa, and make sure children can’t squeeze through the fence or unlatch the door. Gates and doors should be self-closing and self-latching, and gates should open away from the pool.

* Add extra protection on pools and spas. Install automatic safety covers and alarms on doors and windows leading to the water. Do not use floating pool covers; children can slip underneath them and become trapped out of sight.

* Empty blow-up pools after each use.

* Drain standing water from safety pool and spa covers. Children can drown in small amounts of water. Remove covers completely before using a pool or spa, and always replace them immediately after use.

* Never leave toys on the dock or in the pool or spa area to prevent tripping into the pool or standing water.

* Wear a life jacket when boating.

* Look in the water first if any children are missing.

* Always be prepared for an emergency. Learn CPR, know how to swim, keep emergency rescue equipment by the water, have a telephone nearby and teach everyone how to call 9-1-1.

More information on water safety is on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Web site.

More information on child abuse and neglect prevention is on the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Web site.

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