Each interview for Child Safety Source focuses on a respected water safety expert. This week’s guest is Melissa Sutton. Sutton is the President of Active Kids Global, the Vice President of Water Smart Babies and a lifelong advocate for children’s water safety.
Join Life Saver Pool Fence’s President, Eric Lupton, for this one-on-one Child Safety Source interview with Melissa Sutton. It was a wonderful and informative conversation about swimming lessons, unlikely drowning dangers and more.
Child Safety Source Learns More About Melissa Sutton
As you’ve no doubt gleaned from the video, Melissa is serious about keeping children safe from drowning. She has been involved in aquatics and child development throughout her life. Melissa Sutton continues to show her love for the water today. Through her work, she educates those around her on how to be safer in and around water.
In addition to her positions at Active Kids Global and Water Smart Babies, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. Additionally, Melissa is also an aquatic expert for Maricopa County’s Child Fatality Review Team. At Life Saver Pool Fence, we’d like to thank Melissa for taking the time out of her busy schedule to share her wisdom.
If you enjoyed our interview with Melissa, please follow Life Saver Pool Fence on our official Facebook and Instagram accounts. While there, you’ll notice that we share interviews like this one each week. Alongside our community, we aim to spread awareness and help keep children safe from drowning danger.
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Below is a direct transcript of the Child Safety Source interview with Melissa Sutton from September 14th, 2018:
Episode 35 – Melissa Sutton
Eric Lupton: And that’s it, we are live on the Internet.
Melissa Sutton: Hello, live Internet.
Eric: Like magic, where some kind of crazy sorcery, we are transmitting to thousands of people just like that.
Melissa: Yeah, we’ve [pinged] out the space and now we’re back.
Eric: Right. You know, I say that all the time whenever we’re waiting for an e-mail to arrive or web page is loading slowly; like it is coming from space. Can you give it like two minutes to come from the space? Was not traveling to and from a satellite in space fast enough for you?
Melissa: It’s quite amazing. Even thinking about it just blows my mind.
Eric: Once upon a time you send a letter in, and two people would die to get it to California. And now an e-mail takes five minutes, we’re pissed off about it.
Melissa: [laughing]…. Did you have it yet? Refresh! Refresh!
Eric: Refresh! It’s not there yet? No, it’s coming from space, give it a second. Jesus, we’re the worst people. I’m guilty of that all the time; the refreshing waiting for the email. Or the web page or whatever the case may be.
Melissa: Well, we’re creatures of habit, it’s a learned habit.
Eric: And impatient, right? You know, you get used to it.
Eric: So, how are you doing?
Melissa: I’m great! I’m great! How are you? How is this summer?
Eric: This summer is awesome. We were just talking before we got started about you and Australia.
Melissa: Yes, yes. Australia. I wish I were there because it’s southern hemisphere and it’s winter and it was lovely, as opposed to the oppressive heat and humidity we have this time of year in Arizona.
Eric: But how cold does it get though?
Melissa: You know, it’s like the Florida or Arizona winter [crosstalk]…
Eric: Same thing?
Melissa: Yeah. And it was a little bit bitty, it was like the coldest week that we have in Arizona the first week I was there. but that was down in Sydney. And then I ended up going up to Hamilton Island, which is obviously closer to the equators, more lovely. And I ended up in Gold Coast, which again, moderate temperature; it was beautiful. I mean, at nights, I had to have like light jacket or a sweater on but during the day it was perfect.
Eric: So, what temperature is about in Fahrenheit, do you remember?
Melissa: No, because everything was in Celsius. [Laughing]. It was probably, you know, mid-sixties, low seventies.
Eric: Okay. Good, that’s not bad.
Melissa: It’s that earpiece you talked about?
Eric: Yeah, I [can’t use those], I lose them all the time and I can’t put them back in. So, they’re gone forever, that’s it.
Melissa: If you don’t make me laugh, it will stay right there, but if I say [inaudible 00:02:35], it will be fine.
Eric: So, is that the goal of I can make your earphones fall out?
Melissa: It’s a good interview, yeah.
Eric: I’ve done a good job? But yeah, I was born Florida, so I can’t do anything below like sixty degrees, I break you know, it’s just not for me.
Melissa: Yeah. Well, I recommend Australia, it’s lovely there.
Eric: I have a theory that if you have to…you know places like Michigan or Canada; anywhere where you need body armor to go outside and if you don’t, you’ll die, I don’t think human beings are meant to be there.
Melissa: I think I have like regressive memories, I think because I was born in Arizona, but then my parents moved me to Michigan where I grew up through high school. So, having been born in this climate with the thin blood and everything and then being thrust into the thunder of the North, I prefer… I can handle, ski trips here and there, long weekends, but that’s all I want to tolerate.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. It is not for me at all. We used to do an annual thing up in New York and, yeah, I hated it. So, what were you doing in Austria? Tell us about that.
Melissa: Yeah, so I went over there initially for research. I kind of one day start asking… my first inkling was, you know they have a [real life student] society that’s been around for over one hundred years; both surf life and real life. So, I figured they might know a thing or two and we can learn from them and there were a few conference….
Eric: So, the society, is that purely water safety?
Melissa: Yes, yes. Absolutely.
Eric: So, it was started, you said over a hundred years ago, so we’ll say ‘1918’, before that purely to prevent drownings?
Eric: Oh, that’s crazy. Okay.
Melissa: They are similar to our Red Cross with regard to they offer like C.P.R. and things of that nature. But as you know, that’s one of our layers of protection as well. But other…it’s purely water safety.
Eric: That’s cool.
Melissa: Yeah, absolutely.
Eric: So, anyways….
Melissa: Yes, so I went over there again, for the research, just trying to learn from them but there was four conferences that just really lined up back to back. So, I said “you know what? We’re going for a month and we’re going to interview a lot of people”. So, the survey itself is about water safety awareness and it’s just asking parents… we are really going to target group; parents who have already made the decision somewhere along the way to put their children into swim lessons. We’re polling some school parents.
So, I wanted to know their basic demographics to be able to put groups with like groups, but then look into where they’re hearing their messaging? What messaging is resonating with them? What catalyst put them into that position to make the decision to put their child into swim lessons? But also collecting other data along the way about floatation devices, if they use them, if they don’t, which kind, pool barriers, if they have them around their pool to isolate their pool. Asked about their swimming abilities as an adult, if they ever were a life saver themselves, which is their life guards, if they know C.P.R. So, really addressing all the layers of protection that we talk about here in the U.S. And just getting that frame of reference as to how well educated they are with water safety and then see how that translates into what they’re teaching their children and the plans that they have for their children going forward.
Eric: So, how many people did you interview?
Melissa: Well, unfortunately it’s an online survey. But by going to the four different conferences, I tapped into the four major swim industries and governing bodies, if you will, over there; so, they put out to the memberships. So, I only printed off a hundred surveys to bring with me, because you know we’re all different kinds of learners. Some people like to fill out a lot of form and other people like to go online on their phones. So, I have all one hundred surveys back completed, that were printed and I have another two hundred and eighty- four sitting in my inbox waiting for a [grad assist] to help me sort through all this.
Eric: That’s really cool. So, have you looked at the data at all yet? Have you kind of figured out any trends or anything?
Melissa: You know I have taken a peek a little bit for some things. And it was funny because the initial surveys coming in, it appeared as though one of the trends that was concerning to me, was that once parents put their child into swim lessons, they didn’t feel like drowning was still a possibility for their child or was an issue for their child. Now that I’ve gotten several, a couple hundred… well, that was about when I was at the hundred mark. Now, that we’ve gotten about a hundred more in, that’s not necessarily a dominating trend. It’s still a concerning trend because it is trending that parents do feel like once their children are in swim lessons, they don’t have to worry about drowning.
Eric: That they’ve been drown proofed, essentially?
Melissa: Yeah, fortunately, I think they’re at least well enough educated to know that term isn’t a term we use. But I think it gives them a false sense of security, which just shows to me that the swim schools are doing a great job at getting these parents in and educating them that this is an important part of their lifestyle. But I think they need to take it just a smidge further and incorporate a little bit more water safety lessons into their swim lessons for the kids, more for the parents. Some schools do; a few of them I talked to have really great programs I think we can learn from, but there were an awful lot that did agree that for them, they do like one Water Safety Week a year and then based on looking at their numbers, that was the year or the week that the parents decided to skip. They go like “Oh, well my kids are not going to be in the water, not swimming, so we’re just going to skip this week”. Like, “oh, that’s a problem”. But it’s kind of identifying those kinds of things that I think maybe we intuitively knew, but now the data is going to show like yeah we really need to incorporate a lot more messaging for the parents and even the children while they’re in the pool.
You know, it’s not just about putting their eyes in or blowing bubbles or climbing out; and those are all important skills but it’s also talking to the kids, like “hey, where do you swim when you go to the beach?” And in Australia everyone should know it’s in between the flags or you know whatever messaging they can do, is kind of maybe that theme or topic during the lesson as they’re moving the kids through their strokes or climbing out of the pool or whatever they work on that day.
Eric: So, is the… like [inaudible 00:08:58] swim popular in Australia?
Melissa: Thank goodness, no. I hate to say that publicly, but there is… actually, what I learned over there was it’s not okay, they’re realizing that there’s a lot of trauma behind that kind of methodology. And the Australian government is cracking down on it, they just created a new division of the government to specifically look at these kinds of lessons and they are all for governing bodies of swim lessons have put out position papers saying that they will have trauma free lessons and they define that. So, they’re making really big strides over there, making sure that kids are in a very loving, nurturing environment, while making them safer in the water.
And you know, obviously we want kids to have the best development experience they can growing up and we want to foster the love of the water and making sure that they’re safe and understand the rules behind it. But making sure that, especially at a young age, it’s the most vulnerable ages that we’re taking the properties of the water and the sensory experiences of the water, making them super positive for the kids, where parents are in there, it’s skin to skin, it’s pressure, giving them that squeeze, giving them the dopamine, versus putting them in a stressful situation which releases cortisol. You know, those kinds of things.
Eric: So, what age range do you think is a good starting point for kids to start getting lessons?
Melissa: They came from a water environment, I think you should keep them in water environment. I think you know that [inaudible 00:10:37] and I had worked together for the Water Smart Babies Program and that’s where we ask the pediatricians to prescribe swim lessons between at age of nine month or twelve month well visit. And obviously, you don’t want the pediatricians talking to the parents when their kids are sick and they’re bringing them in for you know… they want them to get their babies well and let’s do this wellness checks, everyone’s going “yay, everybody’s doing great”. But we have a booklet that we produce that goes over all the layers of protection and it is specifically expressing that children of that age need to be in a loving, nurturing environment with their parents as they learn to swim. And then incorporating that education for the parents as well, so they’re both getting educated during it.
It does make me sad that we’ve had… well, unfortunately we have drowning all the time, but we obviously have a high profile one that happened recently with our beloved Miller family. And it’s getting a lot of press, it’s getting a lot of traction, which is good because it raises awareness and helps us scream from the mountain tops like we’ve been doing. But it did make me sad in the interview when they said that you know, they didn’t feel like they knew about this and why weren’t they hearing it from the doctor? And the Water Smart Babies program has been around since ‘2009’ and pretty much just been Mona and me trying to on-board the world. So, you know we didn’t get there fast enough and that makes me sad. So, hopefully this will be that catalyst to get more people on board in this program and to more communities.
Eric: Yeah, I mean it’s kind of a bummer that it takes something happening to someone famous, whether it’s former Secretary of State Baker or the Miller family, before the country kind of unites around something.
Melissa: Yeah, because I take it personal.
Melissa: I mean, it’s like I failed them, I didn’t get the message out, I didn’t get to them in time. Just like every family out there that we know and love and so, when I hear these things, it breaks my heart and I take it personally.
Eric: And I think the kind of research you’re doing is important. Keri Morison of “Live like Jake”, just recently did a survey online and it was more focused around pediatrician interaction with children. And I was really surprised about the results she had. She had several hundred respondents and I think it was something like eighty-five percent of the parents were not briefed about water safety by their pediatrician.
Eric: Which, the flip side of that, means only fifty percent were. Which I thought it would be bad, but I didn’t think it would be nearly that bad. That’s in Florida; you know most of her… I think she had a national response but she’s in Florida and I’m sure a good chunk of the people who responded were in south Florida, where it is where she lives.
Melissa: Absolutely. Well, it wasn’t until ‘2010’ where the….
Eric: I’m back. Alright, sorry about that.
Melissa: You’re back? Hello.
Eric: That’s a new thing; sorry about that.
Melissa: The satellites.
Eric: That right from space.
Eric: You know how you got from space, you know?
Melissa: Aww, too funny.
Eric: Yeah, that sucks. Anyways, so, hopefully you know we can do a better job of getting out to people.
Melissa: Yeah, so I think we last left off with the question you asked was about how we feel like we’re doing. So, the research shows that we’re plateauing. I don’t think we’re getting complacent, I think there’s a lot of people out there, doing a lot of great things. But what I like to elude it to is, I feel like it’s that wall of water we’re just pushing back and pushing back. Because I mean in Arizona, we have eighty thousand people who move to the valley every year that we’ve got to educate. You know if they don’t come from a state that already has this, it’s up to us to educate these people.
Plus you know we have beautiful weather, so people come out here and rent homes to golf or sometimes we host Super Bowls, which we’ve got another one coming up and you know, it’s just a lot of visitors here that we have to reach because we’ve got people renting out their homes that don’t have fences around their pools, to families who have small children who just have no clue about their child can get through the door and out to the pool and that that’s a problem.
So, we just had actually one of our recent drownings was a rental. And so, I think we’re going to see some precedent being set by this about the responsibility of homeowners and landlords to understand who’s in the home, who they’re renting to. And I’m not saying that laws are going to change because again even if they do it’s the enforcement side, but I’d be really curious to see what comes out of this case because I have a feeling it’s going to go somewhere.
Eric: Got you. So, before we wrap up, anything you want to plug or let people know about?
Melissa: Well, NDPA has our conference every year. [Crosstalk]…
Eric: In New Orleans, this time.
Melissa: No, N’awlins…. [Laughing]
Eric: Very excited about that.
Melissa: It is, yeah, it’s very exciting. It will be a fun location, so we hope there’s a big draw. Plus, as far as we’re aware there’s not a ton of water safety; at least organized bodies in that area. We’ve got a Coast Guard and I know that we’ve got some people locally who are trying to do great things but hopefully we can help that community out and maybe get some people connected while we’re there. So, obviously they’re a low line area, they’ve already been devastated and they always have to worry about summers down there and of course our hurricane season. Of course you do in Florida as well.
Arizona, no natural disasters, people. Definitely we can bring some good to that community and yeah, it will be fun. So, that’s what’s coming up and again, once I get my research scattered and part and parceled, I’ll definitely be pushing that out to everyone and hopefully we can learn something and maybe secure some bigger dollars from bigger corporations or even maybe government funding. Because again, I think that you know, do you we want big brother involved in everything? No, but I think sometimes when a little bit more money can be put into an effort that’s a worldwide epidemic, we might make some more headway.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely and I’m excited to see the result of your research, kind of what you uncover there. It’s exciting.
Melissa: I know. I know, me too. Very exciting.
Eric: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
Melisa: Alright Eric, thanks so much for your time today and thanks for all you do.
Eric: Thanks and we’ll talk soon.
Melissa: Sounds good.