An unfenced backyard pool: A source of fun but also a source of danger!

It’s that time of the year again — pool season!  As temperatures rise, there’s nothing more fun for kids to do than splash away in the nearest pool.

As parents, grandparents, child care providers and a caring community, we must also be aware of the dangers that come with access to swimming pools. 

In fact, drowning is the No. 1 cause of death among children ages 1-4 here in Orange County and across the United States.

Just weeks ago, emergency crews here in Irvine were able to save a child because an adult had quickly pulled him out of the water.

However, we also hear tragic stories every year about accidental drownings.  Here is what Nicole, Levi’s mother, shared with us: “This June will mark 3 years since we said goodbye to our three-year-old son, Levi. He was our third child and only son. This brown-eyed boy who brought silliness and fun to our lives, who was doted on by his big sisters, and who was snatched from our family on an unsuspecting Sunday afternoon. Water took our son’s life. Levi wasn’t swimming. He was sitting on the couch wearing khaki shorts and surrounded by friends when he somehow slipped out of the door unnoticed and reached water alone. Despite immediate attention from the six physicians on our trip, including my husband, we lost Levi that night.”

Nicole continued, “We were so careful around water. We didn’t know the real truth about drowning. But, now we do, and we are determined to help spread this message to other parents. Thanks to each of you who make water safety a priority every day for your families. It matters.”

Drowning Can Happen to Any Family

For residential pools, the only evidence-based best practice that has been documented through research to prevent the death or disability of a child from unsupervised access to a swimming pool is installation of a 4-sided isolation fence.  The fence should include a self-closing, self-latching gate that meets the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standard.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that 69% of children younger than 5 years of age who were involved in a drowning incident were not supposed to be at or in the pool at the time of the incident.  That’s why it’s so important to fence your pool. If you have a backyard pool, please be sure to install a 4-sided isolation fence to keep your kids (and your pets) safe.

What About Our Community Pools and Spas?

Coast Guard-approved life vest

Watching a child at any pool is critical! We must be vigilant and remain within an arm’s reach of young children. We cannot be distracted by cell phones or conversations with others. If you have more than one child, consider having two adults available to watch the kids. This should be 1:1 supervision. And, when you go to the pool, put a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on young children and unskilled swimmers. You may even need one!
If you are there with other families, assign a “Water Watcher” to keep a close eye out for any child who may be in distress and needs help.

Overall Strategies to Prevent Childhood Drowning:

• Barriers: An isolation fence is critical, as well as supplementary barriers such as door alarms for layers of protection

• Supervision: With no distractions such as cell phones

• Swim Lessons: High quality, low-cost lessons which are typically available through your city, the local Y or the Red Cross

• Life Jackets: U.S. Coast Guard-approved for open bodies of water and at pools for young children and unskilled swimmers

• CPR: Immediate resuscitation at the submersion site with a focus on the airway and rescue breathing before compressions


Resource Links:

Should My Children Take Swim Lessons Without Being Vaccinated?

AAP Policy Statement: Prevention of Drowning

American Academy of Pediatrics Drowning Prevention Toolkit

AAP-OC Drowning Prevention Initiative

Fitting Your Child with the Correct Life Vest

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH