“I understand all too well the dangers that water can represent,” said Karen Cohn, founder of the Zac Foundation, pointing out that drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under age 14. “Many of these deaths could have been prevented.”
Cohn’s 6-year-old son drowned in 2007 after his arm became stuck in the suction of the drain in their backyard pool. Although he was a strong swimmer, “swimming skills are not enough to combat an entrapment,” she said. The foundation named for her son is dedicated to educating parents about water safety, which goes beyond swimming skills. The ZAC Foundation held its first water safety awareness camp, called ZAC Camp in Greenwich in April 2011. “We can save lives,” Cohn stressed.
Cohn was among advocates and legislators who held a State Capitol news conference to announce the creation of a legislative task force to bring awareness to the issue of childhood drownings. Steven Hernández,, Executive Director of the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, said the goal of the effort was “to prevent tragedies like these,” adding that “we need a multi-pronged response to a multi-pronged problem.”
The initiative was launched during National Water Safety Month, held each year in May, driven by statistics including:
- Almost 800 children die the U.S. every year from accidental drowning;
- 54% of these deaths are among children ages 0-4;
- African-American and Latino children are more than twice as likely to die from drowning, compared to Caucasian children; and
- According to the National Autism Association, accidental drowning led to 90% of the deaths of children with autism ages 14 and younger.
The statistics about children’s drowning deaths have not changed over time, implying that current strategies for prevention are not enough, officials said. Increasing children’s access to swim lessons, encouraging schools to teach water safety skills to students and giving parents easy-to-use and engaging tools to talk to their children about how to be safe around water are just a few actions that can have a big effect in reducing drowning rates, officials stressed.
An issue brief on the subject, prepared by Jennifer L. Masone of the Institute for Educational Leaders, and Principal, Wolfpit Elementary School in Norwalk, indicated that “from 2004-2014, 62 children from birth to 19 died from unintentional drowning. Of those, 35% were white and 34% were minority while the general population averaged 75% white and 25% minority. These data do not include children who experienced other short or long term effects.
The State Department of Public Health corroborates this information with its summation that for 2000-2004, “The Non-Hispanic Black population experienced a drowning rate twice that of the Non-Hispanic White population, and 33% higher than the Hispanic population.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said the issue needs to be “seen as a community solution through education.” He said “this is an issue we can solve,” saluting the effort to bring interested parties together to work collectively.
In addition to establishing the task force, proponents of the initiative highlighted their support for HB 6260, which would require police officers to be trained to handle incidents involving juveniles with autism. The measure has passed the House and is awaiting Senate action. Rep. Liz Linehan, who introduced that bill, said, “Children with autism are at an increased risk of drowning because they have a tendency to wander away from adult supervision and to seek out bodies of water.”
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie said “accidental drownings in Connecticut are a serious problem that deserves our full attention and one thing we can stress is the need for more education for parents and people overseeing children, especially now as we approach summer.”