Hospitals in New York may soon be required to offer new parents a swim safety video screening before taking their newborns home.

The bill passed the New York State Senate and Assembly on June 5 and if Gov. Kathy Hochul signs it into law, the state-approved video will be offered to new parents at the hospital before they head home with their babies.

The bill was modeled after a current state law regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome. 

The groups behind it, the New York Water Safety Coalition and the United States Swim School Association, also created a sample video highlighting ways children can get hurt in the water.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for kids under 5 and the second leading cause of death for kids 14 and under, said New York Water Safety Coalition founder Brendan O’Melveny. There are also about twice as many nonfatal drownings each year as fatal drownings.

Lisa Zarda worked on getting the bill passed and is executive director of the United States Swim School Association. She hopes the bill’s passing will push other states to follow suit.

“There’s already a mechanism in place in hospitals to show one video (about Shaken Baby Syndrome),” she said. “Why not just show two videos?”

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Will this work? Here’s what other water safety experts think.

Ashleigh Bullivant is executive director of Infant Swimming Resource – ISR – which offers swim classes to infants and other children and has about 1,000 instructors.

She thinks the legislation and accompanying sample video are a “wonderful way” to start this conversation about water safety and drowning prevention. It needs to continue though because water safety is important for all age groups, she said.

She also understands that people at the hospital welcoming babies are at a pretty shocking point in their lives. She was once that mom.

“It’s probably hard to get any one message through really, really clearly in that time of life because so many things are changing,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t try.”

The video may even be relevant to people who have just welcomed babies but have older children at home, she said.

Lindsay Mondick is the YMCA’s director of movement engagement, innovative priorities and aquatics safety. She said the video is a “much-needed push for education for parents.”

She recalls seeing multiple videos when she first became a mom, including one about sudden infant death syndrome.

“I think adding water safety is a really important component and a video that reaches parents in a different way can be a very compelling way, especially when you have parents from family foundations sharing the story of losing children,” she said.

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Other ways children can fall victim to drowning incidents

Data has shown that for children under the age of 18 months, the majority of drownings happen in the bathtub. It can happen in as little as an inch of water for children that young, Mondick said.

It can even happen with toilets. Children can flip toilet lids up, fall forward and fall in. The same way parents child proof their homes with socket covers, protections are needed for water sources in or around the house, like toilet seat locks, she said.

And for open water or pools, she stressed the importance of parents not relying solely on lifeguards to keep their children safe. 

“Our main job as parents and caregivers is still to watch our children and not rely on the lifeguards to do it for us,” Mondick said. “Lifeguards are that layer of protection to help us if something goes wrong.”

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What’s next for the bill?

Once Hochul receives the bill, she has 10 days to sign it, veto it or it automatically becomes law. The groups hope to get the bill on the governor’s radar so she can prioritize it. They also want to meet with her office, O’Melveny said.

Both O’Melveny and Zarda have both spoken to families who have experienced water tragedies. 

O’Melveny also harbors a great deal of empathy for those who’ve lost children or nearly lost children to drowning incidents. 

“They’re not bad people,” O’Melveny said. “Every single parent that’s ever been alive has had that one second where they’re like ‘Where is she? Weren’t you watching her?’ And that split second is all it really takes for a child to drown.”


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