Working alongside the parents of a 6-year-old girl who drowned while attending summer camp in Altadena in 2019, state Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, introduced a bill to improve water safety policies and education throughout the state.
Assembly Bill 768 would mandate that the state Division of Boating and Waterways, Department of Education and Department of Public Health work together “to create updated pool and open water safety policies and programming that can be readily adopted by California schools,” according to a statement issued by Holden’s office. It was introduced in the Assembly on Wednesday.
“To save precious young lives, we must ensure that caregivers are equipped with the best resources,” Holden said. “Schools are an ideal means for providing drowning prevention awareness and education to millions of students and caregivers.”
The proposed legislation was inspired by the death of 6-year-old Roxie Forbes, who drowned in a swimming pool while at a summer camp in Altadena in June of 2019.
“In the wake of Roxie’s preventable drowning, her parents Doug Forbes and Elena Matyas established the Meow Meow Foundation in honor of their daughter,” the statement said. “The couple has worked tirelessly to develop an end-to-end childhood drowning prevention model, including legislation.”
Doug Forbes applauded the bill and encouraged more action to help prevent child drownings.
“It’s time to do better by children instead of merely making empty pledges,” he said.
“The very tragic fact is that fatal and non-fatal child drownings are on the rise yet again, largely because drowning does not receive the attention it desperately deserves,” Forbes and Matyas, who sponsored the bill, said in the statement. “We must also remember that Black children drown at rates up to five times more than white children and that a vast number of children do not swim or understand how to be water-safe at all.”
If enacted, the bill would affect water safety education for California’s roughly six million schoolchildren, Forbes said.
“We are also introducing a perennial resolution titled Roxie’s Drowning Prevention Month,” he said. “Each May will be dedicated to educational and experiential drowning prevention initiatives throughout all 58 counties.”
Holden was also partnering with Roxie’s parents in that effort.
“These are just initial steps in our wide-ranging drowning prevention advocacy effort,” Forbes said.
Another bill championed by the Meow Meow Foundation and first introduced last year by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, seeking to regulate summer camps is expected to return to discussion in the coming months, he said.
“We’re also giving a presentation at the National Water Safety Conference in March,” Forbes said.
California ranks third among U.S. states in drownings, according to Holden’s office. Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death for children between 1 and 4 years old, and the second leading cause of death for children under 14.
“Only 1% of parents who participated in a nationwide survey consider drowning to be a home safety concern, yet nearly 90% of drownings occur with an adult nearby,” the statement said.
The text of AB 768 can be found online at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB768.
More information about the Meow Meow Foundation is available on the organization’s website at meowmeowfoundation.org.