Wolfson: How safety initiative educated parents about dangers to children in pools

When pool-owning parents were asked about the risks of drowning to children, many seemed disconnected from the danger.

Scott Wolfson
Scott Wolfson

Have you ever seen a YouTube video of a drowning child being pulled out of a pool by first responders? I have, and as a parent with young children, it forever changed my thinking.

But when pool-owning parents were asked about the risks of drowning to children, many seemed disconnected from the danger, believing it’s a terrible tragedy for those "other" parents. In their minds, their kids were not in danger. But that wasn’t necessarily true.

In the focus groups we conducted during the planning phase of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s first-of-its-kind Pool Safely campaign, it became clear that parents had a false sense of security about the risks of drowning. And when asked about the actions they were taking, we found most parents were not taking the necessary steps to make their kids, and others, safer in and around the water.

Our research also showed they didn’t want to be made to feel like bad parents, yet were open to making improvements, if given practical information.

In our messaging and materials, we honed in on simple steps parents should take: Always watch kids in and around the water, teach them to swim, install proper fencing and drain covers, and learn CPR. We encouraged busy parents to "consider the safety steps you’re taking, then add a few more" to connote that we recognize they’re doing something, but that they can do more. 

Pool Safely has been adopted by about 900 campaign partners, including the American Red Cross and the USA Swimming Foundation. As the federal government’s largest drowning prevention campaign, we are proud that our PSAs garnered more than a billion impressions.

The most important statistic, of course, is the number of US child drownings. Media-reported child drownings in US pools and spas, according to data from USA Swimming, dropped from 345 in 2012 to 303 in 2014.

We leverage social media daily to disseminate our messages, as well as drive our target audience to resources such as the Pool Safely Pledge checklist for adults.

The campaign has garnered more than 712 million media impressions since May 2014, and was featured on outlets including Today, Good Morning America, and BuzzFeed, among others.

We still have a lot of work to do. Because drowning is 100% preventable, even one drowning is too many, which is why Pool Safely must endure. 

Scott Wolfson is communications director and senior adviser to the chairman at the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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