Summer is here, school is out, and many parents and children look to the beach, pools, lakes, and rivers to beat the heat and have some fun. But before you put your kids in their swimsuits and head to the water, ask yourself, "How safe is my child?" Did you know:

  • Drowning is the number one cause of death for children 4 years of age and younger in California, and 17 in other states.
  • Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children 14 and under.
  • Every day in our country, 11 children lose their lives and another 39 suffer some form of permanent brain damage because of water accidents.
  • More than 4,000 children die each year from drowning and another 12,000 suffer some form of permanent brain damage.

Sadly, most of these tragedies could have been prevented. In a perfect world, no young child would reach the water alone. Unfortunately, as all parents know, children are experts at escape, and it only takes a moment and a child is at risk for drowning.

Our family knows all too well how quickly it can happen. In August 2004, our 14-month-old daughter, Sarah Marie, drowned in a family pool right here in Scripps Ranch. To this day, we don't understand how she got past us because we were dining in the backyard next to the pool. No one thinks that it will happen to them; we sure didn't. I can tell you that it happens quicker than you can imagine, and it is silent. You will not know until it is too late.

There are many swim survival classes in our area, and I urge you to find one for your child. I went to observe a class just months before Sarah drowned. I so regret that I did not enroll our daughter in the class. Had she taken it, she likely would have survived.

It's important to be sure a swim class includes self-rescue skills training. There are classes that teach children as young as 6 months old. Beginning at that age, infants can learn to hold their breath under water, roll onto their backs, and float unassisted.

Losing a child to drowning is a horrible tragedy for a family. It has forever changed ours. I hope to prevent anyone from experiencing the loss that we have experienced. It is an unnecessary and preventable death.

Many parents rely on flotation devices to allow their children the freedom to play in the water. This teaches our children to love the water but it does not teach them any skills to survive in the water.

Children everywhere need to learn to swim at an early age so that they are not rendered completely helpless should they end up in the water alone. Swimming and swim lessons are not just for recreation, they can be a matter of life, serious injury, or death.

Here are more frightening statistics:

  • 70% of preschoolers who drown are in the care of one or both parents at the time of drowning, and 75% are missing from sight for five minutes or less.
  • 19% of drowning deaths involving children occur in public pools with certified lifeguards present.
  • It is estimated that for each drowning death, there are one to four nonfatal submersions that result in hospitalization.
  • For those who require CPR and survive, at least half of the survivors suffer significant neurological impairment.

Please seek out a certified program to teach your child to swim and be able to survive if they fall into the water. Do not let your family suffer the indescribable tragedy our family has suffered. If just one person uses this article as motivation to take their child to water survival lessons, it was worth it to share our story.

I hope you and your family have a fun and safe summer.

Erin Ferguson, Scripps Ranch Resident

[Editor's note: We thank Erin and her family for sharing their story in hopes that families make teaching their children water safety a priority.]