98 children drowned in Florida in 2021, a record number, according to state data

8 On Your Side

TAMPA (WFLA) – New state data shows child drownings hit a record high in Florida last year with 98 children dying in 2021.

One in four of those fatalities happened in the Tampa Bay area so what’s behind the spike, and how can it be stopped?

In 2019, there were 65 child drowning deaths in Florida, and 69 drowning deaths occurred in 2020.

But last year, we lost nearly 100 children.

According to new data from the Florida Department of Children and Families, 98 people, age 18 and under, drowned in 2021.

“The increase is something that is incredibly alarming,” said Cassie McGovern, a member of Florida’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee, a state committee that reviews each death.  

McGovern said in many instances, the child escaped the home and gained access to a body of water.  A river, a canal, even a tiny inflatable pool, can quickly take a young life.

“When you look at the data … it is the child getting out of the home undetected,” McGovern said. “It’s just the complacency, the thought of it’s not going to happen to me.”

During the pandemic, we saw more children at home during the pandemic.

Last year, when cases were down, more families planned pool parties and trips.

McGovern said the state is reporting more drownings in vacation rental homes and hotels.

“As a statewide initiative, we focused on talking to the Airbnb’s, the travel industry, to let them know that they need to implement a process for renters,” said McGovern. “So, what we’re really trying to do is encourage the travel industry to see the value in putting different placquards up around the pool area, putting the fencing up around the pool, putting the door chimes on the doors so that the child can’t gain access to the pool easily.”

Advocates are also pushing the travel industry to include a water safety message during the booking process.

McGovern outlined the best lines of defense against child drownings.

“Supervision is absolutely crucial when you’re in and around the water,” McGovern said.

First and foremost, constantly supervise kids around bodies of water.

Next, install alarms on doors and fencing around pools.

“We know children are quick,” McGovern said. “We know that they are unpredictable. We know that they’re drawn to the water so we need to delay access to water as much as humanly possible.

“Now if they breach the door chime and the fencing, then at least know some basic skills enough to float or choo choo to the wall until help arrives”

Finally, invest in swimming and CPR lessons.

“I think what I really want parents and caregivers to understand is that it can happen to you,” McGovern said.

In 2009, McGovern’s 19-month-old daughter, Edna Mae, died after drowning in the family’s backyard pool.

Edna Mae slipped out the back as McGovern was putting away groceries.

“What I did when I noticed that she wasn’t right where I had left her, next to the kitchen … I looked around my house for her,” McGovern said. “I proceeded to go outside, and unfortunately saw our daughter floating in our pool and my world stopped … I just held her and screamed.”

The family created the McGovern Foundation, a non-profit raising awareness of drowning prevention one family at a time.

“When I kissed her goodbye, I promised her that I was going to do everything in my power to help bring awareness, to help save children, to help people understand that this is preventable, and it doesn’t have to continue to happen,” said McGovern.

Experts said children can drown in less than two inches of water so you’re urged to drain containers.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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