My name is Jenny Bennett. I am an emergency room nurse of 13 years in the greater Houston area. I am also a mother of four children, one of which I lost to the greatest threat to a healthy child’s life: drowning. Now I fight so others do not feel my pain.
Across all my social media feeds, at work, even on the phone with friends, I keep hearing parents breathe a sigh of relief that their kids are not at high risk for COVID-19. Yet I have greater fear, because I know that the conditions of quarantine are strengthening the number one killer of young, otherwise healthy, children: Drowning.
Courtesy of Jenny BennettThis killer took my son, Jackson, at only 18 months old. On July 9, 2016, he slipped out our usually-locked doggie door while we thought he was safe upstairs playing with his older sisters. After only a few minutes of being unknowingly unsupervised, I frantically ran to our backyard pool and found him floating face down in his clothes. As an emergency room nurse, instinct kicked in and I performed CPR on my son. My only son. But after several days in a pediatric ICU, he was declared brain dead.
The statistics are chilling. Drowning is the number one reason a healthy child will die before they reach kindergarten. When young children drown, they usually do so while under the care of their parents, when they are not expected to be in or around the water, and in less than a five-minute lapse of supervision. While my son, Jackson, matches each of those statistics, he is not a number. He is a real child, with a family who adored him and will never get to see him grow up.
So when I see pictures of the cute antics kids got into while a parent was in a Zoom call the next room over, I can’t help but think, “They could have drowned.” Parents are being asked to do the impossible: supervise their children, help older children with virtual learning, and work from home. Something has to give, and in homes with pools, that something could be deadly.
I’ve learned so much about drowning since Jackson died, and will never stop questioning the “what ifs.” Now, I run ParentsPreventing Childhood Drowning and work to make sure no other parent is forced to face the daily nightmare of waking up without their child. But I also must be honest. Parents like me have been doing this work for decades, and drowning rates just haven’t changed yet. We are still failing nearly 1,000 children each year in the United States. Three children every day. Yet drowning is preventable.
Now more than ever, we need the support of mainstream media to reach families before it is too late. Based off the social change a single virus has implemented across the country, it is clear that we have the ability to make and follow new laws and recommendations in order to save lives. So, how about we change a few things to make our most vulnerable population safer?
Together with other water safety warriors, Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning put together a petition to HGTV asking that they use their platform of 95 million viewers to model safe home buying and home renovating. We ask that they make pool fences a non-negotiable in the budget for any homeowner. Having a pool fence, at least four feet high and with self-latching gates, would have saved my son. It would have saved nearly all other young childhood drownings. We also ask that they share a short PSA from the American Academy of Pediatrics with every renovation which includes a backyard pool.
Reality TV shows have fundamentally changed how our culture approaches home buying and home renovating. What if they could change our culture around water, too? The cost benefit is so obvious; we are talking about children’s lives. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we protect those more vulnerable than ourselves.
Nothing I do now can bring Jackson back. The work I do is for you, for your kids. I hope you can take ten seconds of your day to sign this petition for me, and if you’re so compelled, please follow our work at Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning and become familiar with the layers of protection that will save lives.
Drowning happens to real children. It happens to good parents. It could happen to you.