Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 2: Program Activities for Healthy Development

2.2 Supervision and Discipline

2.2.0 Supervision Near Bodies of Water

Constant and active supervision should be maintained when any child is in or around water (1). 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. Children ages thirteen months to five years of age should not be permitted to play in areas where there is any body of water, including swimming pools, ponds and irrigation ditches, built-in wading pools, tubs, pails, sinks, or toilets unless the supervising adult is within an arm’s length providing “touch supervision”.

Caregivers/teachers should ensure that all pools meet the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, requiring the retrofitting of safe suction-type devices for pools and spas to prevent underwater entrapment of children in such locations with strong suction devices that have led to deaths of children of varying ages (2).

Small children can drown within thirty seconds, in as little as two inches of liquid (3).

In a comprehensive study of drowning and submersion incidents involving children under five years of age in Arizona, California, and Florida, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that:

  1. Submersion incidents involving children usually happen in familiar surroundings;
  2. Pool submersions involving children happen quickly, 77% of the victims had been missing from sight for five minutes or less;
  3. Child drowning is a silent death, and splashing may not occur to alert someone that the child is in trouble (4).

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages one to fourteen (5).

In 2006, approximately 1,100 children under the age of twenty in the U.S died from drowning (11). A national study that examined where drowning most commonly takes place concluded that infants are most likely to drown in bathtubs, toddlers are most likely to drown in swimming pools and older children and adolescents are most likely to drown in freshwater (rivers, lakes, ponds) (11).

While swimming pools pose the greatest risk for toddlers, about one-quarter of drowning among toddlers are in freshwater sites, such as ponds or lakes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:

  1. Swimming lessons for children based on the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional maturity, physical limitations, and health concerns related to swimming pools;
  2. “Touch supervision” of infants and young children through age four when they are in the bathtub or around other bodies of water;
  3. Installation of four-sided fencing that completely separates homes from residential pools;
  4. Use of approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) when riding on a boat or playing near a river, lake, pond, or ocean;
  5. Teaching children never to swim alone or without adult supervision;
  6. Stressing the need for parents/guardians and teens to learn first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) (3).

Deaths and nonfatal injuries have been associated with infant bathtub “supporting ring” devices that are supposed to keep an infant safe in the tub. These rings usually contain three or four legs with suction cups that attach to the bottom of the tub. The suction cups, however, may release suddenly, allowing the bath ring and infant to tip over. An infant also may slip between the legs of the bath ring and become trapped under it. Caregivers/teachers must not rely on these devices to keep an infant safe in the bath and must never leave an infant alone in these bath support rings (1,6,7).

Thirty children under five years of age died from drowning in buckets, pails, and containers from 2003-2005 (10). Of all buckets, the five-gallon size presents the greatest hazard to young children because of its tall straight sides and its weight with even just a small amount of liquid. It is nearly impossible for top-heavy (their heads) infants and toddlers to free themselves when they fall into a five-gallon bucket head first (8).

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control recommends that whenever young children are swimming, playing, or bathing in water, an adult should be watching them constantly. The supervising adult should not read, play cards, talk on the telephone, mow the lawn, or do any other distracting activity while watching children (1,9).

“Touch supervision” means keeping swimming children within arm’s reach and in sight at all times. Flotation devices should never be used as a substitute for supervision. Knowing how to swim does not make a child drown-proof.

The need for constant supervision is of particular concern in dealing with very young children and children with significant motor dysfunction or developmental delays. Supervising adults should be CPR-trained and should have a telephone accessible to the pool and water area at all times should emergency services be required.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Ratios and Supervision for Swimming, Wading, and Water Play Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Training for Swimming and Water Play Enclosure of Bodies of Water Pool Safety Rules
  1. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2009. CPSC warns of in-home drowning dangers with bathtubs, bath seats, buckets. Release #10-008. Washington, DC: CPSC.
  2. U.S. Congress. 2007. Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. 15 USC 8001.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. 2010. Policy statement-prevention of drowning. Pediatrics 126: 178-85.
  4. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2002. How to plan for the unexpected: Preventing child drownings. Publication #359. Washington, DC: CPSC.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2010. Unintentional drowning: Fact sheet.
  6. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 1994. Drowning hazard with baby “supporting ring” devices. Document #5084. Washington, DC: CPSC.
  7. Rauchschwalbe, R., R. A. Brenner, S. Gordon. 1997. The role of bathtub seats and rings in infant drowning deaths. Pediatrics 100:e1.
  8. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 1994. Infants and toddlers can drown in 5-gallon buckets: A hidden hazard in the home. Document #5006. Washington, DC: CPSC. http://www.cpsc
  9. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 1997. CPSC reminds pool owners that barriers, supervision prevent drowning. Release #97-152. Washington, DC: CPSC.
  10. Gipson, K. 2008. Submersions related to non-pool and non-spa products, 2008 report. Washington, DC: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  11. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, J. Weiss. 2010. Technical report: Prevention of drowning. Pediatrics 126: e253-62.