Representing coastal cities in South Orange County and North San Diego County, Assemblymember Laurie Davies looks to facilitate swim lessons for underserved youth by establishing a state Youth Water Safety Grant this National Water Safety Month.
Introduced in mid-February, Assembly Bill 1056 would require the state’s Department of Parks and Recreation to establish the California Water Safety Grant, giving nonprofits and public agencies opportunities to apply for up to $25,000 in funding for swim programs.
According to the bill, the grant would help fund “nonprofit organizations, special districts, and city or county parks and recreation departments to provide free swimming lessons for low-income and at-risk youth.”
Davies said she was inspired after San Diego County provided swim lessons and water safety grants to community-based businesses and nonprofits.
“What it does is, the grant will be able to be given to YMCAs and your local community pools so that they can go ahead and have these classes available for the community,” Davies said. “I believe that when they did that in North San Diego, they were able to teach over 8,000 students.”
“That’s huge,” Davies continued. “And when you consider what we can do at a statewide level, we can save so many unintentional deaths when it comes to drowning.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is a leading cause of death for children, with an estimated 4,000 “fatal unintentional drownings” every year.
“I think the No. 1 thing is to save lives,” Davies said. “Children, 0 to 5, can actually drown in 2 inches of water. It’s a massive issue when you consider that drowning is the third-leading cause of unintentional injuries, deaths worldwide, and that’s according to the CDC.”
“But these are deaths that could be stopped, and so education is everything,” Davies continued.
The Orange County Fire Authority recommends learning the “ABCs of drowning prevention”: Active Adult Supervision, Barriers and Classes.
OCFA recommends having a “water watcher,” an adult who knows how to swim to watch over those in the water; keeping barriers around pools and spas to avoid unattended children from falling in; and taking swim and water rescue classes.
“Make sure that if your kids are in a swimming pool or at the ocean that you know that they’re supervised,” Davies said. “Never swim alone. These are just key things. What’s important is that education saves lives.”
Davies added that it’s important that swim education be equitable and that “everyone has an opportunity to be able to learn how to swim.”
“Swimming really is a life skill that everyone should be taught,” Davies said. “I had the opportunity to be able to learn how to swim as a kid, and it gives you that opportunity … to actually enjoy all the facilities that we have throughout our communities.”
Emphasizing the State of California’s existing outdoor equity grants, Davies noted that “there’s nothing in those grants specifically designed for the purpose of training kids how to swim.”
“We talk about equity, when you look at who can and cannot afford swim lessons or don’t have the community pools in their neighborhoods, it’s lower-income communities or immigrant communities,” Davies said. “Frankly, nobody should be left behind.
Davies continued that access to public beaches in California is a right, and “one’s ability to swim should not hamper their abilities to use these facilities.”
The bill passed the Assembly’s Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife in mid-April and has now gone into suspense—a legislative procedure to consider a bill’s fiscal impact—while it awaits discussion from the Committee on Appropriations.
“Right now, it’s in suspense, so we’re really hoping that we’ll know in a couple of weeks if it goes forward,” Davies said. “We sure would like to have any support we can.”
Davies added that those looking to support the bill can contact the governor and encourage the bill to move forward.