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How to keep your kids safe around swimming pools

It's nearly summer, and for many kids, that means long, lazy days spent splashing in the pool. Unfortunately, summer also means a spike in drownings - the leading cause of death for children under age four.

Parents with young children need to be aware of the hazards. If you have a pool - whether a permanent in-ground type, a seasonal backyard one that you put up for the summer, or even an inflatable kiddie pool - you must take steps to prevent tragic accidents.

The "layers of protection" approach

The National Drowning Prevention Alliance recommends multiple "layers of protection" to keep kids safe. The idea is that any one layer of protection - adult supervision, for example - may not be fully effective 100 percent of the time. Even the most attentive parents, for example, can lose sight of their kids, and it only takes a second for a child to fall into a pool and drown. But if additional layers of protection are in place - a safety fence or pool alarm, for example - those layers may save lives.

All swimming pools and water environments should have as many layers of protection as possible. These include:

  • Intentional adult supervision: Children of all ages should be closely supervised around water activities, even if they know how to swim. Babies and toddlers should always be kept within arm's reach. Sadly, many drownings and near-drownings happen when there are plenty of adults nearby, but they're busy visiting or otherwise distracted. Be intentional about keeping a careful eye on your kids, and never assume that someone else is watching them.
  • Physical barriers: Swimming pools should be completely enclosed with safety fencing (or similar barriers) that have self-closing, self-latching gates. Safety nets or covers can also be effective so long as they're specifically designed for that purpose. Floating covers won't support the weight of a child.
  • Alarms: There are numerous types of pool alarms on the market for detecting unauthorized entry: motion sensors, surface sensors and infrared sensors, to name a few. Door alarms should also be installed when there is direct access from the house to the pool.
  • Basic water survival skills: Ensuring that your kids know how to swim - or at least how to float - is another layer of protection. However, swimming lessons can create a false sense of security. No child is "drown-proof."
  • Know CPR: Should all other protections fail, CPR can still make a life-or-death difference. All parents should know how to administer basic CPR on infants and children.

California law requires swimming pools (public and private) to have certain minimum safety measures in place. Under a recently enacted law, new or remodeled pools and spas will need at least two types of safety measures, and home inspectors must go over safety features (or the lack thereof) whenever a home with a pool or spa changes hands.

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