Fact Sheet

In the United States, 851 children (0-17) died from drowning in 2012. Seventy-one percent of those were boys. There is also disparity in drowning for African-Americans, particularly African-American children ages 5-14, who drown at three times the rate of white children of the same ages. Toddlers, especially boys under age four, are at highest risk of drowning. More children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause except congenital anomalies. Toddlers, though curious near water, are not able to comprehend the potential dangers. Children living in rural areas are also at higher risk because of their proximity to open bodies of water. Most child drownings occur when a supervising adult is distracted.

A 2003 study in the Journal of Pediatrics reported on the relationship between the child’s age and place of drowning. This study found that babies most often drown in bathtubs or buckets when left unattended. Children ages 1-4 drown most often in swimming pools, but a quarter drown in other freshwater settings. Children 5-17 most often drown in freshwater sites such as rivers, lakes and ponds.

Personal flotation devices (life jackets) are very effective at preventing drowning for all ages, especially for children playing in or near pools and open bodies of water, regardless of whether the child is a good swimmer.

Major Risk Factors

  • Lack of or lapse in adult supervision
  • Children under age four and males
  • Unlocked gates and inadequate fencing or other barriers at pools and ponds
  • Easy, unsupervised access to open bodies of water
  • Alcohol use by supervising adults and adolescent swimmers
  • Child unable to swim.
  • Personal floatation device was not worn or was inappropriate
  • Seizure disorder

Records Needed for Case Review

  • Autopsy reports
  • Scene investigation reports
  • EMS run reports
  • Prior CPS history on child, caregivers and persons supervising child at time of death
  • Names, ages and genders of other children in home
  • Information on zoning and code inspections and violations regarding pools or ponds


The National Drowning Prevention Alliance recommends layers of protection, both physical and supervision strategies, around all aquatic environments. Some prevention strategies are:

  • Presence of CPR-trained person
  • Wearing appropriate personal flotation devices when swimming and in boats
  • Strong support and local enforcement of building codes regarding proper pool and pond enclosures.
  • Learn to swim, but remember that children who can swim are not drown-proof
  • Placement of signage near bodies of water to warn of possible water dangers such as strong currents and drop-offs.
  • Public awareness campaigns and water safety classes for parents of young children, emphasizing constant adult supervision and use of personal floatation devices.
  • Parent education at childbirth classes and well-baby visits on bathtub safety for infants


See also:

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Prevention of Drowning

CDC Injury Prevention & Control:  Water-related injuries