The drowning statistics for children under age 14 are alarming. According to the World Health Organization, accidental drowning has become a significant concern, such that drowning has now been declared a worldwide health issue.

The Centers for Disease Control also report that accidental drowning is now the second leading cause of death for children, after motor vehicle accidents, with an estimated 10 children drowning in the United States every day, or about 3,500 a year. Worldwide, this number is over 300,000 every year.

The first line of defense begins in the home with water safety education. Parents, guardians and grandparents can educate themselves and their families about safe behavior in and around water. Having at least one family member trained in CPR and First Aid is recommended for every household.

Identifying potential risks in and around the home can pinpoint potential hazard areas. This includes taking steps to ensure no child is left unattended in the bathtub, home and car cleaning water buckets are emptied, and safety measures, including attentive adult supervision, are strictly adhered to regarding home pools and other water sources in and around home.

The best preventive measure beyond education is learning to swim. Most children in the United States are weak swimmers or cannot swim at all, which increases their risk of drowning. Swimming lessons are a vital step in preventing drowning accidents. While no one is ever “drown proof,” water safety education and learning to swim can lower chances of accidental drowning by over 80%.

There are several reasons families choose not to put their children through swim lessons. Unfortunately, the main reason is cost. Paying for swimming lessons can put a strain on a family’s budget, and while parents may agree that learning to swim is indeed a “life skill,” they may not have financial resources to provide this for their children.

Some parents vow to teach their children themselves. While fun, if parents are themselves inexperienced or inefficient swimmers, children will not learn the skills necessary to self-rescue, or how to help others. These are skills they would learn in an organized, nationally recognized swim lesson program, such as American Red Cross swim lessons, the YMCA Swim Lesson Program, Starfish Aquatics and others.

Some families may not appreciate the importance of learning to swim, or parents themselves are afraid of the water and are hesitant to sign their children up for lessons. Other families may simply not be interested in entering their children in swimming as a sport or for recreation.

While understandable, it is important to remember that children are 100% curious, especially about water. While a family may enjoy non-aquatic activities, as children grow, develop friendships, and go off to school, they will inevitably meet friends who enjoy playing in and around water. Many accidental drownings occur when there were no plans to enter the water, however a child reached for a toy, slipped while running along a creek or river, or toppled in while fishing.

It’s never too late to learn, and learning to swim is important for teens and adults as well. As a community-driven organization, we encourage everyone to learn, and the YMCA provides access to lessons for children, individuals and families, regardless of their financial circumstances. Almost all aquatic facilities offer some type of swim lesson program and many facilities have the ability to work with families on lesson pricing to make lessons affordable.

Learning to swim, and learning CPR and First Aid, saves lives. Swimming is truly is a “life skill.” Children don’t need to become the next Michael Phelps, unless they want to aspire to an Olympic berth, but they should be able to enter a lesson program and progress through all the levels until they’ve completed the highest level offered at their local pool.

Most lesson programs also encourage parents to start lessons with their children as young as 6 months old. In parent-baby lessons, the parents learn valuable water safety information, and babies are able to explore aquatics in a safe, structured environment. By the time these children are 3-4 years old, they are well-adjusted to the water and making great strides in learning to swim.

As part of its commitment to social responsibility, the Walla Walla YMCA is doing its part to make swimming lessons and safety training accessible to everyone in our community. Here are some of our statistics:

Through partnerships with local school districts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the generous donations received from individuals, corporations, community grants and others, during the 2018-2019 school year we were able to:

1. Provide swimming lessons/water safety information to nearly 600 children through our school swim lesson program, at no cost to the schools or the families.

2. Provide free swimming lessons to over 200 children during our Free Swim Lessons program during school districts’ spring break.

3. Train over 30 new lifeguards, renew certifications for over 50 lifeguards, and train eight new lifeguard instructors, and we certified 11 new swim lesson instructors. Financial support from our community helps us keep costs down.

4. Provide CPR/AED and First Aid training to nearly 100 people in our community, often taking the class to our local businesses.

The Walla Walla community, through its commitment to area aquatics centers and CPR/First Aid programs is helping to reduce the risk and drowning statistics in the community. We invite everyone to do more. Encourage friends and neighbors to learn water safety and get children into a swim lesson program. Be informed and involved in what our community is doing to keep our children safe in and around water. Consider funding a swimming scholarship for a family who cannot afford swimming lessons, and remind each other that even if swimming “isn’t our thing” everyone should at least know how.

If we work together, we will save lives — perhaps the life saved will be someone close to you!