updated 6/15/2011 1:17:30 PM ET 2011-06-15T17:17:30

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., June 15, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- For children, summer is synonymous with fun. School's out! It's time for beach vacations and backyard pool parties. But members of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) know that summertime is also tragically synonymous with a spike in child drownings.

For some, like Beverly Payton of Richboro, Pa., that knowledge is both personal and painful. Her 3-year-old daughter, Alicea, drowned in 1988, when she and a playmate gained unsupervised access to a neighbor's unsecured aboveground swimming pool. "Children are naturally drawn to water," says Payton. "But they don't comprehend the danger it can hold." Now, Payton is on a mission to teach parents and pool owners how to prevent a similar tragedy. "No parent should experience that anguish," she says.

Last year, Payton, an independent public relations consultant who serves on the National Drowning Prevention Alliance board of directors, was the lead author of a communications plan that reaped a $1.3 million contract with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for the nonprofit. The NDPA is now rolling out a number of the plan's initiatives to educate the public—especially parents and swimming pool owners—about drowning and entrapment prevention. The program complements the CPSC's Pool Safelycampaign, which fulfills requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act.

To remind families with young children to make unsupervised pool access an "impossible mission," the NDPA created a public service announcement that explores the fantasy world of two young children, on a mission to retrieve a toy from a backyard pool.

"While the message is presented in a lighthearted way, the take-away is very serious," says Maureen Williams of Yorba Linda, Calif., NDPA founding president, who oversaw the PSA's development. "It's impossible to keep your eye on an active toddler 24/7," says Williams. "Parents need to know that barriers are crucial, so that a momentary lapse in supervision won't result in tragedy. Also, if a toddler is missing, be sure to check the pool area first." she adds.

To provide pool owners with a thorough safety message, the NDPA also produced a longer pool safety training video. It stresses, among other things, the need for constant adult supervision around water. "Many toddlers drown during backyard pool parties while several adults are in the immediate area," says Kim Burgess, of Ft. Lauderdale, executive director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. "The tragedy is usually swift and silent," she says, adding: "During gatherings in which several adults are present, everyone assumes that someone else is watching the children, when, in reality, nobody is."

That's why the NDPA urges pool owners and parents to designate a specific adult "water watcher" who will remain vigilant and undistracted while children are in or around water. "The water watcher should be a competent swimmer, know what to do in an emergency and must not leave his or her post until another water watcher takes over that duty," says Burgess. She adds that parents and pool owners should be certified in CPR and keep a phone and a reaching aid—such as a shepherd's hook—by the pool.

The NDPA also created a preschool lesson plan. "This will get important water safety messages to children and to their parents as well," says Johnny Johnson, of Santa Ana, Calif., who is overseeing the development of the lesson plan that will be piloted and evaluated by several preschool day camps this summer. Johnson is a past president of the NDPA and founder of the Swim for Life Foundation. The preschool lesson plan is based on the foundation's Safer 3 program for Safer Water, Safer Kids and Safer Response.

"Teaching children safe behaviors around water and providing formal swimming lessons is not only safer, it opens the door to a lifetime of enjoyable recreation," adds Johnny's wife, Cindy Johnson, who was recently elected NDPA Treasurer.

Parents and pool owners are encouraged to download the free resource, "Layers of Protection," at NDPA.org and to visit Pool Safely.gov for safety tips, informational videos and children's games and activities.

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death to children nationally. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that an average of 5,100 pool- or spa-related submersion injuries were treated in hospital emergency departments each year from 2008 through 2010. From 2006 to 2008 an annual average of 383 pool- or spa-related fatalities involved children younger than 15. More than three-quarters of the reported fatalities and nearly 80 percent of the treated injuries involved children younger than 5.

bev@payton.com

215-357-5075

The National Drowning Prevention Alliance is a volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2004. NDPA members are dedicated to preventing drowning for all age groups in all bodies of water through public education, advocacy and strategic partnerships. The public is invited to join by visiting NDPA.org.

The Pool Safely campaign fulfills requirements of Section 1407 of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act). The 2007 law is named for the 7-year-old granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker who drowned in 2002 when she became trapped on a hot tub drain.

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[Image] Child stopped by pool fence

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