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With start of summer comes rise in drownings

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Summer is officially here, and the season for enjoying California's beaches, pools and lakes has begun.

And every year, along with the predictably hot sun, especially inland, comes another predictable and tragic reality: an increase in drownings. 

In just the past six weeks or so, since Memorial Day weekend, at least four people have drowned in California, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Young children often are the victims: In 2009, according to the Drowning Prevention Foundation, 93 children ages 18 and younger drowned. The state says that of those, a dozen 1-year-olds and two dozen 2-year-olds drowned in pools. That's 26 babies or toddlers lost in what are usually preventable accidents.

And it's not just children. A national Red Cross poll [PDF] this year found that a surprising 37 percent of adults "described their swimming skills as lacking or nonexistent."  Thirteen percent answered that they can't swim at all.

In March, Shaunakaye Williams, a 16-year-old high school honor student from New Jersey visiting for a math and science competition in Long Beach, drowned in a hotel pool. Her father, Carl Williams, told a New York television station that his daughter, who couldn't swim, had sneaked out of her hotel room with a friend to go into the hot tub and pool. The friend, he said, had left to answer a phone call and "when she came back, (Shaunakaye) was under the water."

The Red Cross poll seems to indicate that the earlier children are taught to swim, the better. It reports that among adults who learned to swim before age 10, "22 percent have excellent swimming skills compared to 3 percent of those who learned after the age of 10."

There are numerous safety steps you can take to protect your children from drowning. California's Department of Developmental Services has a web page listing links to prevention information, including YouTube videos.

And the National Drowning Prevention Alliance has a simple online game you can play with young children to teach them about risks around the pool.

Incidentally, in case you're wondering why it's the state's Department of Developmental Services that hosts the links: It's the department that coordinates services for the nearly 700 survivors of near-drowning accidents. Although those Californians survived their ordeals, the agency says most have "severe disabilities caused by being deprived of oxygen while under water."

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