Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 1: Staffing

1.1 Child:Staff Ratio, Group Size, and Minimum Age

1.1.1 Child:Staff Ratio and Group Size Ratios and Supervision for Swimming, Wading, and Water Play

The following child:staff ratios should apply while children are swimming, wading, or engaged in water play:

Developmental Levels

Child:Staff Ratio







School-age Children


Constant and active supervision should be maintained when any child is in or around water (4). During any swimming/wading/water play activities where either an infant or a toddler is present, the ratio should always be one adult to one infant/toddler. The required ratio of adults to older children should be met without including the adults who are required for supervision of infants and/or toddlers. An adult should remain in direct physical contact with an infant at all times during swimming or water play (4). Whenever children thirteen months and up to five years of age are in or around water, the supervising adult should be within an arm’s length providing “touch supervision” (6). The attention of an adult who is supervising children of any age should be focused on the child, and the adult should never be engaged in other distracting activities (4), such as talking on the telephone, socializing, or tending to chores.

A lifeguard should not be counted in the child:staff ratio.

The circumstances surrounding drownings and water-related injuries of young children suggest that staffing requirements and environmental modifications may reduce the risk of this type of injury. Essential elements are close continuous supervision (1,4), four-sided fencing and self-locking gates around all swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas, and special safety covers on pools when they are not in use (2,7). Five-gallon buckets should not be used for water play (4). Water play using small (one quart) plastic pitchers and plastic containers for pouring water and plastic dish pans or bowls allow children to practice pouring skills. Between 2003 and 2005, a study of drowning deaths of children younger than five years of age attributed the highest percentage of drowning reports to an adult losing contact or knowledge of the whereabouts of the child (5). During the time of lost contact, the child managed to gain access to the pool (3).
Water play includes wading. Touch supervision means keeping swimming children within arm’s reach and in sight at all times. Drowning is a “silent killer” and children may slip into the water silently without any splashing or screaming.

Ratios for supervision of swimming, wading and water play do not include personnel who have other duties that might preclude their involvement in supervision during swimming/wading/water play activities while they are performing those duties. This ratio excludes cooks, maintenance workers, or lifeguards from being counted in the child:staff ratio if they are involved in specialized duties at the same time. Proper ratios during swimming activities with infants are important. Infant swimming programs have led to water intoxication and seizures because infants may swallow excessive water when they are engaged in any submersion activities (1).

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Supervision Near Bodies of Water Sensors or Remote Monitors Safety Covers for Swimming Pools Pool Safety Rules Lifesaving Equipment Lifeline in Pool Water in Containers Portable Wading Pools
  1. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Pool and spa safety: The Virginia Graeme Baker pool and spa safety act.
  2. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Steps for safety around the pool: The pool and spa safety act. Pool Safely.
  3. Gipson, K. 2008. Pool and spa submersion: Estimated injuries and reported fatalities, 2008 report. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  4. Gipson, K. 2009. Submersions related to non-pool and non-spa products, 2008 report. Washington, DC: CPSC.
  5. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 2009. CPSC warns of in-home drowning dangers with bathtubs, bath seats, buckets. Release #10-008.
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, J. Weiss. 2010. Technical report: Prevention of drowning. Pediatrics 126: e253-62.
  7. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, J. Weiss. 2010. Technical report: Prevention of drowning. Pediatrics 126: e253-62.