Drowning
Fact Sheet
In the United States, 1,236 children (0-18) died from drowning in 2000. Males are at a much higher risk of drowning than girls: one study found that on average, three-quarters of all drowning victims are male. Toddlers, especially boys under age four, are at highest risk of drowning. Toddlers, though curious near water, are not able to comprehend the potential dangers. It is also believed that toddlers drown silently; not splashing or calling for help when they get into trouble in water. Children living in rural areas are also at higher risk because of their proximity to open bodies of water. Most child drownings occur when a supervising adult is distracted.

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics reported on the relationship between the child’s age and place of drowning. This study found that babies most often drown in bathtubs when left unattended, even for a few minutes. Toddler drowning most often occurs in swimming pools or backyard ponds. Most children who drown in pools were last seen inside the home or just outside of the home (not necessarily near the water) and had been out of sight of the caretaker for less than five minutes. Older children more often drown in open bodies of water (lakes, rivers, oceans, gravel pits).

Personal flotation devices (PFDs or life jackets) are very effective at preventing drowning for all ages, especially for children playing in or near pools and open bodies of water, regardless of whether the child is a good swimmer.
Major Risk Factors
  • Lapse in adult supervision.
  • Children under age four and males.
  • Unlocked gates and inadequate fencing of pools and ponds.
  • Easy, unsupervised access to open bodies of water.
  • Lack of adequate adult supervision.
  • Drug or alcohol use by supervising adults.
  • Child’s ability to gain access to pools.
  • Whether or not child was able to swim.
  • Whether a personal floatation device was appropriate and used.
Records Needed for Case Review
  • Autopsy reports
  • Scene investigation reports
  • EMS run reports
  • Prior CPS history on child, caregivers and persons supervising child at time of death
  • Names, ages and genders of other children in home
  • Information on zoning and code inspections and violations regarding pools or ponds
Resources

Prevention
  • Strong support and local enforcement of building codes regarding proper pool and pond enclosures.
  • Placement of signage near bodies of water to warn of possible water dangers such as strong currents and drop-offs.
  • Public awareness campaigns and water safety classes for parents of young children, emphasizing constant adult supervision and use of personal floatation devices.
  • Children’s swim and water safety classes, especially for children over age four.
  • Parent education at childbirth classes and well-baby visits on bathtub safety for infants.