Almost half of parents think they can supervise swimming children while working

Two toddlers drowned Friday evening in backyard swimming pools — one in Sorel-Tracy in the Montérégie, one in Lanaudière. A three-year-old boy from Kahnawake was pronounced dead at the Montreal Children’s Hospital last Wednesday after drowning in a backyard pool: It was one of two such deaths recorded by the hospital last week. On July 4, a three-year-old girl was found drowned in an above-ground pool in Noyan, a town south of Montreal in Haut-Richelieu.

What makes these deaths doubly tragic is that they are nearly always preventable.

The 2019 report of the Quebec branch of the Lifesaving Society found that 87 per cent of child drownings in Quebec were due to distracted supervision or no supervision all.

In that light, results of a survey made public Monday in the run-up to National Drowning Prevention Week, which starts July 19, are particularly disturbing: Fifty-two per cent of Quebec parents who own a swimming pool or plan to buy one soon say they’ll be working from home this summer, at least occasionally: The COVID-19 pandemic means significantly more people are working from home: Of these, nine per cent said their children will swim without supervision and 43 per cent said they will personally supervise their children while working from home.

The remaining 48 per cent said their children will be supervised by a spouse, a babysitter or another family member, or that their children won’t swim while they’re working from home.

“There are significant risks involved in having children swim without supervision or with a parent unable to give their full attention due to work-related distractions,” said Raynald Hawkins, executive director of the Quebec branch of the Lifesaving Society.

Having a pool means setting additional house rules, he said. Just as there are designated drivers at parties, there should be designated supervisors watching kids in the pool.

“Drowning is silent and takes only 15 to 20 seconds to happen, so it’s essential to watch young children this summer at all times.”

Avoid working when on duty, Hawkins said. As designated supervisor, put away your phone or tablet or laptop and give your undivided attention to those in the pool. “You cannot have any task other than supervising the kids.”

If no one is available to supervise swimmers, no one should be in the water — and the gate leading to the yard should be locked or the area fenced off so no one has access to the pool.

Hawkins this month celebrated his 30th anniversary as director of the Quebec branch of the Lifesaving Society. When he started, Quebec had about 200 drownings a year. Today there are about 80 — in a province with way more backyard pools and boaters than in 1990.

Still, he said, “I know one drowning is one too many.”

Fifty-eight people drowned in Quebec in 2019, 75 per cent of them between May and September: National Drowning Prevention Week marks the week in summer during which the greatest number of drownings takes place.

Thirty-eight per cent of the drownings in 2019 were in rivers and 28 per cent in lakes or creeks; 14 per cent were in private pools and 11 per cent in bathtubs: bathtub drownings particularly affect toddlers and seniors, Hawkins said. Nine per cent of drownings were in oceans or in the St. Lawrence River.

By July 8 of this year, there were 42 drownings in Quebec, compared with 31 during the same period in 2019. But June alone of this year was marked by 22 drownings — compared with 11 in June of 2019.

The hot weather has probably been a factor. “Usually when there is an increased number of drownings, I can make a link with the weather,” Hawkins said.

As well, the pandemic means more Quebecers are staying closer to home, and “an increased number of bathers and boaters increases the mathematical probability of drowning.”

Boaters should always wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device, he said.

Rivers can look calm, but can have currents beneath the surface. People should swim only in rivers where there are lifeguards on duty. “If you don’t see any swimming facilities with lifeguards, understand this is not a place to swim,” Hawkins said.

The survey was conducted by Allstate Insurance on the Angus Reid Forum panel June 10 to 15 with a sample of 505 Canadians who have children younger than 18 and own or plan to buy a swimming pool this summer. Two hundred respondents were Quebecers.

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