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As summer approaches, here’s what parents need to know about water safety.

The global lockdown has inspired a spike in pool sales. But summer fun brings real danger — drowning remains the leading cause of unintentional death for kids ages 1-4— and 71 percent of those deaths occur in residential pools.

Parents need to understand the danger. “It’s about layers of protection,” says Karen Cohn, co-founder of The ZAC Foundation, an organization promoting water safety. For parents, grandparents and any caregiver, we need to make sure there are barriers to access water, but we are all busy, especially now while we are working from home and also caring for children. When children gain unsupervised access, “It’s not a lack of supervision — it’s a lapse in supervision.” 

The ZAC Foundation

Karen founded The ZAC Foundation in 2008 with her husband Brian to honor their son, Zachary Archer Cohn. Zachary drowned in their backyard pool when a loose drain cover came off and the suction trapped him underwater.

“When you have a drain entrapment, it’s hundreds of pounds of pressure,” Cohn explains. “You can’t be released unless you shut down the power.”

Initially, the Cohns spent time thinking about how the foundation could have the greatest impact. After passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, which mandated new requirements for pool and spa safety, they decided to start ZAC Camps that incorporate three components: in-water swim instruction, safety lessons from local first responders, and in-classroom lessons. Since that first pilot program at a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, the foundation has funded water safety and swim camps for more than 20,000 children nationwide and includes other partners like YMCAs and the American Red Cross.

The ABCDs of Water Safety

One of the key concepts The ZAC Foundation promotes is the ABCDs of Water Safety. “The A is for adult supervision,” explains Cohn. “B is for barriers and teaching families and children not to cross them without an adult. C is for classes — everyone needs to learn how to swim, and it’s important for families to know CPR. D is for drain and device safety. We try to teach children and families not to swim near drains, and if a drain cover is loose or missing, that no one should be swimming in that pool. And, if they’re boating in open water, they should be wearing a lifejacket.”

Through its national advocacy, partnerships, and ZAC Camp programming, the Foundation has recognized that addressing the drowning crisis requires a “whole community” approach informed by and reflecting the realities specific to individual communities. To this end, TZF is working with community partners in four regions across the country to develop drowning prevention action plans with the goal of reducing drowning rates and, more broadly, serving on the steering committee working toward the development of a national drowning prevention action plan that will be a game-changer and help save lives.

 “We try to pull everyone who could have anything to do with drowning prevention into a room and just talk about what the community is currently doing for drowning prevention, and what more they could be doing,” says Cohn.

To get the message directly to kids, the Foundation  published a children’s book  ‛The Polar Bear that Couldn’t, Wouldn’t Swim’ that teaches water safety. “It’s for children up to around age 10,” Cohn says, noting that Zachary’s favorite stuffed animal was a polar bear. “The book is about Zeke, the polar bear’s journey in the zoo of overcoming his fear of the water and learning how to swim. 

Cohn lays out some other pool safety fundamentals like removing toys from pools to eliminate temptation; at the beach, being aware of water conditions; and always designating an adult as a “water watcher.”

The ZAC Foundation’s work continues. “We feel like we have made some progress,” Cohn says, “but we still have work to do, especially in at-risk communities, where the drowning risk for Black and Latinx children is even higher due to historic inequities in access to public swimming pools and swim instruction.”

To learn more about proper water safety, visit The ZAC Foundation at

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