Posted: August 4, 2017 at 4:30 am

Christine Wallace, top, teaches kids to float at The Shack Neighborhood House outside of Morgantown, West Virginia.


Automobile accidents and drowning continue to be two of the biggest threats to child safety in West Virginia according to the annual Child Fatality Review Report submitted to the legislature for approval at the end of 2016.  Of the 57 deaths of children, ages 1 to 17, deemed “preventable” in 2014, 35 were accidental. Twenty-three of those deaths were automobile accidents, and six were drownings. Other causes of accidental death for children were asphyxia, poisoning, and fire or electrocution.

Those findings are in keeping with national statistics where drowning leads the causes of death for children ages 1 to 4, and motor vehicle accidents lead for children ages 5 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

State policy mandates an annual Child Fatality Review.  Medical professionals, public health officials, emergency responders and law enforcement officials examine each child fatality case looking for patterns, so they can make recommendations to prevent future fatalities.

Of the 24 auto-related deaths in 2014, 23 children and one infant, exactly half were children between the ages of 15 and 17. The review team found children ages 16 to 19 at highest risk to be in an automobile crash.  However, 11 of the 24 automobile deaths were the fault of the other driver, seven were caused by the child’s driver, and only six were cases where the child driving was at fault.

Cheryl Walton has been teaching her daughter to drive and said what scares her is other drivers.

“I trust [my child] fully to do the right thing. I’m scared to death that something is going to happen because somebody is going to be drinking and driving, drugs, anything, just driving under the influence of any kind,” Walton said.

Video by Nick Foutrakis

The Review team recommended an increase in driver’s education programs in the state’s school systems and increased parental communication with children around the dangers of distracted driving, such as texting and driving.

Though the largest number of accidental deaths are automobile related, the number of drowning victims isn’t simply reflected in fatalities. In 2014, five children from ages 1-17 died in drowning accidents.

According to the CDC, about one in five children age 14 and younger die each year due to drowning. The state’s Review found that for every one child that dies, another five are taken to the emergency room for non-fatal drowning injuries.

Adam Katchmarchi, president of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, said sometimes the repercussions of the non-fatal accidents can be profound. He said these deaths can be prevented with what he calls “layers of protection.”

“That’s putting barriers around the pool or body of water, making sure the child has constant supervision, and appropriate flotation devices,” Katchmarchi said.

Another cause of drowning is what Katchmarchi refers to as “passive supervision.” Drowning can happen in seconds.

“You’re watching your child, but you may not be constantly every second staring at them,” he said. “When it comes to a child being around water, you have to constantly watch them.”

There are a number of steps parents can take to help make sure their children stay safe while swimming.

Christine Wallace, Program and Outreach Manager at Monongalia Starting Points, teaches swim lessons at The Shack Neighborhood House in Pursglove, West Virginia.

She said that her main goal in teaching swim lessons is teaching children how to breathe and float.

“A lot of what I do here is not only teach children the techniques in proper stroke, but I also teach them safety skills,” Wallace said.

She said learning safety skills is as important for guardians as for children.

“Some of those safety skills include being aware of your surroundings,” she said.

Wallace encourages kids to practice what she calls “Fire, wire, glass, and gas”. This teaches children to be aware of any dangers around the pool that can cause harm.

This applies to children when they’re swimming and even when they’re out of the pool, Wallace said.

Of the six child drowning deaths in 2014, half were in pools, one occurred in a pond, one in a bathtub, and one occurred in a bucket.

Tavie Flowers, a lifeguard at Marilla Pool in Morgantown said keeping a watchful eye on a child’s strengths as a swimmer is crucial in preventing drowning.

“If you’re recognizing that person isn’t a strong swimmer, you can tell them to move to the wall or to a more shallow part of the pool,” Flowers said.

The Child Fatality Report offers suggestions for parents and guardians of children eager to get out in the water. They should keep a watchful eye on their children when they’re in and around water. They should also encourage children to wear life vests if they don’t know how to swim. Lastly kids should avoid horseplay in pools.

Story, video and graphics by Jade Artherhults