By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Safety is a critical component of consumer protection, and now that summer upon us, the issue of safety and the risk of drowning – especially in minority communities –is an important topic for discussion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and minorities are at much greater risk. In 2007, of children ages 1 to 4 who died from unintentional injuries, almost 30 percent were drowning accidents. From 2000-2007, the drowning rate for African Americans was 1.2 times that of whites.
The evidence shows that fear of drowning – not financial or geographic challenges – keeps most inner-city children from taking swimming lessons. For my siblings and me, learning to swim was like learning to eat – you just did it. By 6 and or 7 years old, every kid I knew could swim across the length of the pool. In fact, my friends and I spent entire days in the water, either at the swimming pool or at the lake, where we were utterly confident of our ability to stay afloat. We learned to float first, then learned the crawl, the backstroke, and the sidestroke, and I always figured everyone else felt comfortable in the water too.
But a recent series of focus groups in the African American community shows that parents are less likely to allow their children to take swimming lessons because they fear they will drown. The ironic result is that the risk of drowning increases greatly for minority children.
To address the issue of kids from minority groups not learning to swim or being competent and comfortable in water, there’s an important new program from the USA Swimming Foundation called Make a Splash aimed at such kids. As Make a Splash’s Katrina Florence said in a recent Washington Post article, “No one ever drowned at a swim lesson. They are safest when they are learning.” This is a life-saving program that all members of the community should support. We have many community pools, and now we need communities to embrace programs like Make A Splash, which will save lives and open up a wonderful form of exercise, relief from the heat, and fun to kids across the country.