In Depth: Preventing child drownings

By Jackie Brockington, Anchor
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
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Studies show drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 through 4, while minority children are three times more likely to drown.

So what can parents do to protect children and prevent drowning when near the water?

We asked former U.S. Olympic swimmer and three-time gold medalist Rowdy Gaines how to stay safe in the water.

JACKIE BROCKINGTON: Before we get into the safety tips, tell us a little bit about yourself. Three-time Olympic gold medalist. When did you start swimming?

ROWDY GAINES: I learned how to swim before I learned how to walk. I didn't start competing until I went out for my high school swim team.

JB: So because you are a swimmer is that why you're so involved in water safety and drowning prevention programs?

RG: I have children of my own. I think it's critical. Water is part of the fabric of our community. It's around us -- oceans, Jacuzzis, pools. Seventy percent of African-Americans don't know how to swim. Sixty percent of Hispanics know how to swim. It's not just a minority problem. Forty percent of Caucasians don't know how to swim. It's every day, it's everywhere. One of the leading states for drowning is Minnesota because of all the lakes. So it's a problem.

JB: So what are some of the basic rules of water safety?

RG: We know that the parent is the first line of defense. My money will always be on the child. That child will always find a way to get to the water. Parents must educate themselves, not just to sit there. Drownings happen when adults are present.

JB: One thing that will help is putting an alarm on a door.

RG: There's a lot of backyard pools. You need some type of barrier so that child cannot get to that pool.

JB: It could be a generational thing. I grew up on concrete. We didn't swim. When I had children and I was afraid of water, I thought I want them to learn how to swim.

RG: You are one of the brave souls to do that. A lot of people pass that down to the children. That's something we are trying to change. The YMCA, we revolve around water. From our Safe Start -- it's an amazing program -- all the way to our progressive swim lessons. We think swimming is important. It should be fun. I don't want to scare you. We have to have a respect for it.

JB: The summer is almost here and people are going to be hitting the water, so get your child swimming lessons. Learn yourself. You are never too old to learn how to swim.

RG: We have adult swim lessons too.