A Valley group dedicated to preventing child drownings has turned to social media as an outreach mechanism during the COVID-19 pandemic as Maricopa County’s fatalities have tripled.
Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona President Melissa Sutton said Maricopa County has suffered 12 child drownings so far this year. According to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, drowning is the “number one cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4.”
Arizona typically is a top-four state in child drownings, along with Florida, Texas and California, Ms. Sutton said.
Because of DPCA’s community events and outreach, Ms. Sutton said Arizona made great strides in 2019 in preventing both fatal and near-drownings. She said Maricopa and Pinal counties had four drownings in children ages 4 and younger during 2019, while Pima County had zero.
“Normally, we’re at 12 by August,” she said.
The DPCA attended more than 100 events in 2019 to distribute information and talk to families, said Ms. Sutton.
“This year we’re not able to do that at all, so our numbers are significantly up,” she said, saying closures and social distancing requirements relating to the COVID-19 pandemic have made the group’s efforts difficult.
Not only has the pandemic changed the ways people are informed, but it has placed more children at risk, Ms. Sutton said.
“Parents are now distracted more than ever, and the kids are home with them,” she said.
Facebook has become the main outreach for the group now, said Ms. Sutton, who also emphasized the importance for people to visit the DCPA website as a resource.
“It’s still a battle. It’s still a fight, and unless we’re in front of everybody like we were last year, the numbers keep going up,” said Ms. Sutton.
Paradise Valley Police Department Community Resource Officer Steven McGhee spoke about the group’s social media campaign to raise awareness about drowning prevention.
“We didn’t have a designated public safety area that addressed drowning prevention in our town,” he said.
Paradise Valley operates through Phoenix Fire Department in the event of a drowning, Officer McGhee said.
“I want to be able to provide that resource for our town in accordance with the National Action Plan,” said Officer McGhee, who has a background in water safety.
The National Action Plan for Injury Prevention was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to raise awareness and prevention strategies for deaths the CDC says are “predictable and preventable.”
“That’s why I wanted to raise awareness because it’s severely impacting youth,” Officer McGhee said.
Paradise Valley Police Department recently released a series of Tweets that correlate with the goals of the National Action Plan. The “virtual community,” Officer McGhee said, has been impactful in allowing them to spread awareness at a safe distance during these unprecedented times.
Editor's Note: Tess Keiser is a student reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.