Louisiana: Child Drownings Up After Years Of Falling Numbers

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Child drownings are on the rise in Louisiana, the state Department of Health said. And, it said, inability to swim, lack of supervision and unfenced pools, spas and water bodies are top causes of drownings among babies and children less than 15 years old.

“As temperatures heat up and families return to water activities, it is important for parents and families to stay aware of the precautions they can take to prevent child drownings,” it said in a news release Wednesday.

The department said the number of drownings among children had fallen steadily for years, from 26 in 2015 and 2016 to 15 in 2019. But the total rose 60% in 2020, to 24. And preliminary data indicate that last year’s total was 25, it said.

The department's most recent Louisiana Child Death Review Report, covering 2017 through 2019, found that an average of 17 children drowned each year. That made drowning the No. 3 cause of injury-related death in children up through age 14, behind vehicle crashes and homicide.

It found that 96% of them could not swim, 72% were unsupervised, and 54% died in water that hadn't been fenced off. It found that 60% drowned in a pool, hot tub or spa.

Nationwide, only birth defects cause more deaths than drowning among children aged 1 through 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among children from ages 1 through 14, drowning is the No. 2 cause of unintentional injury death, after motor vehicle crashes, the CDC reports.

Looking at all drownings including adults, the CDC said Louisiana had the nation's third-highest rate, with about 2.2 drowning deaths per 100,000 residents from 2015 through 2019. Alaska, at 4.97, and Hawaii, at 2.9, were higher.

At least four children under age 15 have drowned in Louisiana this year. In January, the body of a 5-year-old Lake Charles boy was found in a neighbor's pool, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office said. In Caddo Parish, a 2-year-old from Vivian died at a hospital after being pulled from Black Bayou Lake on April 4. A 14-year-old New Orleans girl died and her 8-year-old sister remained missing after falling into the Mississippi River on on April 23. A 15-year-old boy also died.

“Tragically, the number of children in Louisiana we have lost to drowning continues to increase,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer. “I urge everyone to follow a few simple, but critical steps to keep you and your children safe around the water we all love to enjoy.”

Those include paying close and constant attention to children who are in or around water; learning CPR and teaching children swimming and water survival skills. Those range from knowing how to float to understanding the dangers of currents and other hazards of water, according to the Red Cross and an organization called Water Safety USA. Children should be kept away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.

The department says pools and spas should be fenced, with a self-closing, self-latching gate. People should wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets when boating or participating in other water activities. And they should stay in designated swimming areas of natural waterbodies, which may have unpredictable currents and undertows.

The department notes that more information is available at PoolSafely.gov.