CAST Water Safety Featured on the Boob Broads Podcast


“Self-rescue skills before swimming pool thrills!”

May is Water Safety month and we are so excited and honored to share a special interview with two phenomenal women who advocate, empower and educate everyday to help save lives.

CAST Founder Liz Huber Featured by Tulane University


Her mission and passion: no more childhood drownings

Preventing childhood drowning is a full-time job — and a passion — for Elizabeth “Liz” Huber (SLA ’08).

“I never imagined I would wear a wet suit to work, but I love what I do,” said Huber, who is the founder and director of CAST Water Safety Foundation, based in Forest Park, Illinois. CAST stands for Creating Aquatic Safety Teams.

CAST is a nonprofit that combats childhood drowning by offering self-rescue swim lessons and water-safety education and sponsoring instructor training.

The swim lessons at CAST aren’t your typical swim class. CAST uses the self-rescue program of Infant Swimming Resource, a 55-year-old organization that centers on giving young children the skills to get themselves to safety if they end up in the water alone. The lessons are one-on-one, continue for about six weeks and are geared to children between the ages of six months to six years.

At CAST, trained instructors teach children to flip onto their backs to float, then flip to their fronts so they can swim toward safety. They roll to their backs again if they get tired and then continue the swim-float-swim sequence until they are able to swim to safety.

“This is survival first,” Huber said. “This is self-rescue.”

CAST’s social media is filled with videos of very young children in the water, flipping themselves to their backs, before flipping to their stomachs and swimming to an instructor or to the side of the pool. One video shows a child in the water wearing a winter coat, snow pants and a winter hat. The child smiles before he flips himself from his back to his front and swims to his instructor. Children wear clothes to some lessons because many water accidents happen when children fall or get into water wearing their regular clothes.

The importance of Huber’s work is clear. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children between the ages of 1 to 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swim lessons as a layer of protection against drowning that can start for many children beginning at age one.

“To talk about this can save a life.”
— Elizabeth “Liz” Huber (SLA ’08), founder and director of CAST Water Safety Foundation, which teaches water safety to young children

At Tulane, Huber majored in communication and minored in business. After graduation, she earned her master’s in education from DePaul University and taught elementary education for eight years in Chicago public schools.

Her entry into the world of self-rescue happened when her two daughters were babies — 10 months and two years. She found the nearest Infant Swimming Resource instructor and drove 40 minutes from her house to the lessons.

Huber was skeptical that her children would learn swim survival at such young ages, but she was delighted with the results. “Within five weeks, my babies were swimming and floating and self-rescuing.”

So impressed was Huber with her children’s achievements that she took the rigorous course to become an Infant Swimming Resource instructor herself. Hoping to combine her business skills with her love of working with children and families, she worked as an independent contractor for a year, teaching children to swim, float and self-rescue.

“I had my own little independent one-man show,” Huber said. But then she realized that she could have more impact and save more lives if she worked in a team. In 2018, she founded CAST Water Safety Foundation.

Since Huber founded CAST, its self-rescue instructors have reached more than 500 children, given out more than 200 scholarships to attend lessons and brought eight new instructors to the Chicago area. In 2020, CAST opened its own swim facility. The biggest challenge now is the long wait list of children eager for lessons, Huber said. She and her team are working on how they can help train more instructors.

Huber said that the lessons are one of many facets of preventing childhood drowning. CAST does not use artificial floatation devices for young children in swimming pools, because they can give children a false sense of security, Huber said. CAST instructors also advise parents to teach children to have a healthy respect for the water if they don’t know how to swim safely. “Skills before thrills,” said Huber. “There’s no reason that they should think that this environment that can take their lives in 30 seconds should be fun and easy or silly.”

Huber recommended parents always be in the water with their child. “If they know how to swim, be in there swimming with them. If they don’t know how to swim yet, be in there holding them. So that when children look at an empty pool, they think, ‘oh that’s a place I go with my parents.’”

The work is not easy, but it is rewarding, Huber said. She has talked with parents or relatives who have lost a child to drowning, and while their stories are heartbreaking, they make Huber even more determined to publicize swim safety.

“If even one more person installs a pool fence or chooses not to let the kids swim for fun in a puddle jumper or if just one person watches their kids better or gets an alarm for their door at night, that makes a difference. To talk about this can save a life.”

Like it has so many others, Huber’s time in New Orleans has left an impression on her soul. On the wall in her office are three signs in the distinctive style of New Orleans street tiles: SWIM. FLOAT. SWIM.

Huber’s academic career was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina, and she attended DePaul during her semester away from Tulane. Seeing the resilience with which New Orleans bounced back has influenced her outlook on life and strengthened her determination to keep trying to prevent childhood drowning through CAST.

“You fight an impossible battle, and you keep going,” she said. “You keep fighting because it’s worth it.”

How one child’s tragedy is making us reconsider our approach to drowning prevention

Todd R. Porter, MD, MSPHNicole Hughes
Contemporary PEDS Journal, June 2021, Volume 38, Issue 6


A pediatrician and a mother share sobering lessons learned regarding water safety for children.

Hughes: My 3-year-old son, Levi, drowned in June 2018 while we were on a beach vacation with friends. One moment, he was sitting on the couch watching TV. In the next, I was pulling his lifeless body from the bottom of a pool.

Levi had somehow slipped out of a living room filled with children and adults, including myself, my husband, and 5 physician friends. We weren’t drinking, weren’t on our phones, and had finished swimming for the day.

I was the one who glanced over the balcony and found our Levi, my guttural screams bringing a rush of people outside. My husband, a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist, was the first to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on his only son.

The confusion of “but we weren’t even swimming” and “Levi was just on the couch” hung in the air as we grappled to make sense of the senseless. It happened so quickly. However, despite immediate attention, including advanced resuscitation from multiple physician experts, we lost our Levi.

Porter: At the age of 3, Levi Richard Hughes joined over 400 other children across the United States between ages 1 and 4 years who die annually from unintentional drowning.1 Although it only takes 20 seconds for a child to drown,2 it has been an unconscionable 3 decades of stagnant drowning rates for this vulnerable population.

Levi’s death was not unlike other drownings of children his age. Given his developmental stage of life, he chose to explore his surroundings and met his ultimate fate in the pool, where the majority of drowning fatalities of children ages 1 to 4 years occur1 during moments when the child was not expected to be swimming.3

Hughes: How did our son drown? How were years of intentional parenting seemingly nullified within seconds?

Levi’s death rests on my husband and myself. There is no denying that we failed to keep him safe. But I have since learned that water safety goes far beyond the assumed foolproof advice of simply “watch your kids while swimming.”

Parents only know what they know. I thought I was doing everything right to keep Levi safe. I have 16 photos of what would be my son’s final day of life; in 14 of them, he is wearing a life jacket. These are time-stamped photos of my precious boy, grinning proudly, secured in his personal flotation device.

I will never stop wishing I had not momentarily turned to clean up dinner or that I had seen Levi slip out the door that night. However, I have come to believe I made another grave mistake that significantly contributed to my son’s death: I encouraged Levi to believe that water was fun. We don’t stand in streets or busy parking lots and eagerly proclaim to our impressionable toddlers, “Come on in—the traffic is fine.” We don’t encourage our kids to play with real guns in an effort to make them “comfortable” around firearms. Yet this is exactly what we do with water, a substance just as deadly as streets, parking lots, and guns.

Porter: For many children, the concept of “water is fun” is introduced in infancy, encouraged by playful splashing in bathtubs. Parents may take their toddlers and preschool-aged children to swimming pools and cheer on their child’s developing comfort in and around the water. Children may even be enrolled in formal swim lessons recommended by family, friends, or a medical provider. These early water engagements have a similar purpose—that children become comfortable in water4,5—and yet parents are unknowingly increasing their child’s comfort and joy around a substance that kills thousands of children each year without also providing the skills to survive.6 Conventional wisdom has promoted early and gradually increased positive water exposures, followed by swim lessons when a child is ready. “When a child is ready” and the type of swim program are of critical importance and yet unclear.

figure image

Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises families follow the advice of their child’s pediatrician to determine the appropriate age for formal lessons. Parents may be advised to consider swim lessons after the child’s first birthday, taking into consideration the child’s emotional, physical, and developmental abilities and comfort in the water.7 However, experts only begin to agree that most children are ready for swim lessons by their fourth birthday, which is long after the highest risk age of drowning.7,8

Significant variability in the type of swim programs also exists,9 with experts conveying that not every program will be right for each child.8 Parent-led classes are endorsed for children aged 1 to 4 years to build swim-readiness skills. Simultaneously, parents are advised to consider programs that teach self-rescue skills and encouraged to use life jackets in the pool if the child is considered a weak swimmer.7

Figure 1 highlights AAP’s swim lesson messaging according to a child’s age and types of swim programs that, for many parents and pediatricians, can appear confusing and conflicting. This lack of consensus may contribute to the infrequent drowning prevention conversations that are given by pediatricians during well-child visits.10,11 We agree with the AAP that a broad and coordinated research agenda is needed to address the efficacy of type of swim lesson programs for children aged 1 to 4 years.8

figure image

Hughes: The stigma around drowning is the greatest threat to prevention efforts. Clearly our culture’s current approach to drowning prevention is not working. Although advancements in child safety have been seen in other areas, drowning safety has watched from the sidelines (Figure 2). The same water safety tips are casually tossed out each year: Watch your kids while swimming. Install a fence. Buy a life jacket. Wait until children are “ready” to start swim lessons. Learn CPR.

figure image

Levi was not swimming. He was wearing khaki shorts and sitting on a couch a moment before he drowned. The beach house had an isolation fence with a self-latching gate. Levi always wore a life jacket when in the pool. We had researched and followed AAP recommendations to wait until the age of 4 years for formal swim lessons. He had 6 physicians by his side within seconds of being pulled from the water. Yet none of these things saved him.

Porter: It is well accepted that drowning prevention involves layers of protection (restricting access to water, supervision, learning to swim, use of lifejackets, CPR) and that enacting all layers achieves the best protection.12 It is also noted that at least 1 layer of protection is breached in 9 out of 10 fatal pool drowning cases.13 One layer of protection that is not often discussed but clearly contributed to Levi’s death was his lack of water competency.

Operationalized concepts of water competency14,15 have historically included elements such as the ability to float and tread water. However, these 2 elements are not of equal importance because floating requires less energy expenditure than treading water16,17 and lack of floating ability has been voiced by drowning survivors as a threat to life and reason for rescue.18 Lack of these competencies may help explain the unchanging drowning rates for children ages 1 to 4 years but are rarely a part of drowning prevention conversation for this population.

Hughes: We must remember that children, not parents, are the true victims of drowning. We owe it to our children to know better and to do better.

We start by looking at success stories in prevention of other premature childhood deaths. For example, as pediatric deaths from motor vehicle crashes rose, we didn’t keep the same approach year after year and hope for the best; instead, we looked beyond the norm and pushed for radical change with the manufacturing and regulation of car seats. Now car seats save thousands of children from preventable injury and death every year.

Porter: To better understand our nation’s current drowning approach as it relates to water competency, we reviewed curricula of 3 popular US swim lesson programs. Programs A and C represent parent-led group lessons typically taught in city recreation centers whereas Program B is a survival swim lesson model taught in public or private pools. Our main objective was to compare these programs’ goals and methodologies for achieved water competency of children aged 6 months to 4 years. The Table summarizes key data elements shared by these programs; results are intended to help caregivers and providers determine which program best meets their child’s water exposure needs.

Review of these programs reveal significant differences in water competency intent and instruction. Although tens of thousands of toddler and preschool-aged children participate in programs A and C, neither of these programs has a goal of water survival at this age. Program B focuses on water survival with significantly more hours dedicated to instructor training and certification as well as a 1:1 instructor-to-child ratio during class. Program B’s methodology also avoids use of flotation aids and teaching of treading water, both of which orient the child in a vertical position thereby inhibiting children’s reliance on their own natural buoyancy.

Hughes: After Levi drowned, I heard about swim programs that taught babies how to float. Hundreds of parents reached out to me to share their passionate testimonials of how these swim lessons saved their children. I was admittedly skeptical. However, as I continued to research pediatric drowning, I saw consistent factors: Children who drown usually loved water, they had relied on a flotation device when swimming in pools, and they did not know how to survive if they reached water alone.

My perception of water shifted, and on the exact day that marked 20 months since Levi’s death, we handed over our 8-month-old daughter Willow, Levi’s little sister, to her first Infant Swimming Resource lesson. I watched her take on water and win. She was not just trained to float; she learned to roll her infant body, find the surface, and get air. Even beyond her ability to survive in water, Willow began to develop a lifetime respect for water.

Porter: Although survival swim has existed for decades, it has been less well adopted and accepted within the water safety community. This perspective may be due in part to 1 historical case report of prolonged exposure to water resulting in infant hyponatremia;19 but may also be further perpetuated by the notion that survival swim causes children emotional trauma.

Interestingly, what stands out in our review is survival swim’s rigorous instructor training and private lesson approach. Instructors are trained in methodologies based in behavioral science, sensorimotor learning, schedules of reinforcement, and the building of behavioral chains with the goal of teaching infants and toddlers to learn skills to help them float and find air if met with an unplanned submersion. Although further research is needed to provide evidence on drowning prevention effectiveness comparing differing swim lesson programs, survival swim (program B) currently is the only methodology that aims to teach aquatic survival skills to children aged 12 to 36 months, which are at highest risk age for drowning.

The statistics prove that our national approach to drowning prevention is failing. We cannot continue to only emphasize and rely on environmental barriers to prevent drowning among young children; rather, we must include the critical piece of water competency for children aged 1 to 4 years in the event of an unintended submersion. As stated by Stallman et al, “The causes of drowning should dictate the way we teach swimming, what children should learn.” Yet “an unfortunate number of teachers or schools emphasize that which is popular with parents” and perhaps not what actually saves lives.18

It is time to reframe our drowning prevention approach from focusing on enjoyment during early water exposures to prioritizing the sole layer of protection that always accompanies the child—their water competency. We must reconsider how and when we teach infants and young children arguably the most vital aquatic skill they can learn: independent back floating. We must reassess swim programs’ success based on demonstrative acquisition of this aquatic survival skill so that pediatricians can provide parents more clear messaging on the timing and type of formal swim lesson enrollment, especially in this most high-risk age. Pediatricians also need to discuss with parents, starting with when their children are infants, that how children are introduced to water and taught to interact with it are just as important as the skills they are taught in it. Encouraging the young child to jump into your arms in a pool with a flotation device can teach them that it is safe and fun to enter and submerge in water that, absent adult supervision has the ability to quickly kill them.

Hughes: Drowning statistics have remained relatively unchanged over decades. Now, we have the power to fix this drowning epidemic. It is time to provide toddlers, our children most at risk of drowning, with the ability to roll, to float, and to survive.


  1. WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System)|. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated July 1, 2020. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  2. National Water Safety Program. US Army Corps of Engineers. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  3. How to plan for the unexpected: preventing child drownings. US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  4. Moran K, Stanley T. Parental perceptions of toddler water safety, swimming ability and swimming lessons. Int J Inj Contr Saf Promot. 2006;13(3):139-143. doi:10.1080/17457300500373572
  5. Moran K, Stanley T. Toddler drowning prevention: teaching parents about water safety in conjunction with their child’s in-water lessons. Int J Inj Contr Saf Promot. 2006;13(4):254-256. doi:10.1080/17457300600678201
  6. Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer. World Health Organization. 2014.
  7. Swim lessons: when to start & what parents should know. Updated March 15, 2019. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  8. Denny SA, Quan L, Gilchrist J, et al; Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Prevention of drowning. Pediatrics. 2019;143(5):e20190850. doi:10.1542/peds.2019-0850
  9. Carr WD. Formal swimming lessons must be defined. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(10):961-962; author reply 962. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2009.184
  10. O’Flaherty JE, Pirie PL. Prevention of pediatric drowning and near-drowning: a survey of members of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics. 1997;99(2):169-174. doi:10.1542/peds.99.2.169
  11. Olson LM, Inkelas M, Halfon N, Schuster MA, O’Connor KG, Mistry R. Overview of the content of health supervision for young children: reports from parents and pediatricians. Pediatrics 2004;113(suppl 6):1907-1916.
  12. Bugeja L, Franklin RC. An analysis of stratagems to reduce drowning deaths of young children in private swimming pools and spas in Victoria, Australia. Int J Inj Contr Saf Promot. 2013;20(3):282-294. doi: 10.1080/17457300.2012.717086
  13. Dangerous waters: profiles of fatal childhood drowning in the US 2005-2014. Safe Kids Worldwide. June 2016. Accessed May 2, 2021.
  14. Quan, L., Ramos W, Harvey C, et al. Toward defining water competency: an American Red Cross definition. Int J Aquat Res Educ. 2015;9(1):12-23. doi:10.25035/ijare.09.01.03
  15. Stallman RK, Moran K, Quan L, Langendorfer S. From swimming skill to water competence: towards a more inclusive drowning prevention future. Int J Aquat Res Educ. 2017;10(2). doi:10.25035/ijare.10.02.03
  16. Graham RD. Comparative energy expenditure of drown proofing and treading water. Master’s thesis. University of Oregon; 1977.
  17. Fritzvold R. The comparative energy costs of treading water and survival floating. Undergraduate thesis. Norwegian School of Sport Science; 1986.
  18. Stallman RK, Junge M, Blixt T. The teaching of swimming based on a model derived from the causes of drowning. Int J Aquat Res Educ. 2008;2(4). doi:10.25035/ijare.02.04.11
  19. Bennett HJ, Wagner T, Fields A. Acute hyponatremia and seizures in an infant after a swimming lesson. Pediatrics. 1983;72(1):125-127.

End the Misinformation

End The Misinformation
Forward To A Friend
Dear Friends,

At the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, part of our vision is to end childhood drowning – the single leading cause of death among children ages one to four.
One major challenge we face is the misleading and inaccurate information used to market and sell children’s flotation devices commonly used by millions of parents.

Some examples of these inaccuracies include:”learn to swim easily” “parents can finally enjoy peace of mind””increase their confidence in water” 
 This product messaging is misleading at best –
deadly at worst.

As a result of this language, many parents find themselves misusing the product and developing a false sense of confidence and security when it comes to their child’s aquatic ability and safety. 

We need your help to “End The Misinformation” and save children’s lives! 
We encourage you to take a moment to hear directly from Nicole Hughes as she bravely shares her personal story. Nicole lost her 3-year old son, Levi, in a tragic drowning accident which followed a day of playing in the pool while wearing a flotation device. Her story is incredibly powerful, and tragically, much too common.

There is no evidence that the use of flotation devices help children learn to swim, and we believe that they are related to many child drowning events. If you share our vision to end childhood drowning, we ask that you please sign our “End The Misinformation” letter that we will be bringing to the retail industry to call attention to and address misleading marketing claims.
If you are a parent who has been impacted by a child drowning, we invite you to share your story to help shed light on this issue.

Please know we are not asking for, or encouraging public shaming of any retailers or manufacturers via social media or otherwise.  We believe they – like many of us – have been unaware of this issue.  Instead, we aim to gather as many voices and signatures as possible to create an incredible groundswell of support to help ensure that no parent or child is misled by this language.

Together with urgency and purpose, we can create change.

Thank you for your courage and support,

Adam Katchmarchi, Ph.D.
Executive Director
National Drowning Prevention Alliance

Benjamin Hoffman, M.D.
Chief Medical Advisor
National Drowning Prevention Alliance
Forward To A Friend

CASTing Hope For a Safer Summer!

We are CASTing hope for a safer summer and raffling off Yeti cooler products, Step 2 Water Tables, and Melissa and Doug toys for participating in our water safety initiatives! Despite all we are going through, drowning remains the leading cause of death for children under 5. The new demands of the quarantine lifestyle are leaving us more distracted and overwhelmed. And, all the while superstores and pool stores are selling out of above ground pools as parents scramble to “save summer.” Please follow us on IG for free safety strategies and tips to keep your loved ones safe all summer! Tag, share, and spread the word – you could save a life! Please also reach out to request your free water guardian tag or to schedule a free water safety strategizing phone call with one of our certified instructors.

Chalk It Up For Hope!

The CAST Water Safety Foundation Presents: Chalk it up for hope!

The CAST Water Safety Foundation’s mission is to prevent childhood drowning.  Our mission is based on preventative measures which keep our kids safer. As serious as this mission is, we find that our lives and work are now full of hope, courage, kindness, connection, trust, passion and love.  
As a CAST Community, we are resilient, giving, creative, and we have driven change.  Now we are all in this together!

Please join us in our efforts to share hope and courage!

  • Decorate sidewalks with encouraging artwork, quotes, and messages.  Repeat when it rains!
  • Tag @CAST_Watersafety_foundation on IG or CAST Water Safety Foundation to have your efforts shared and to be entered for a chance to win raffle prizes.
  • Visit our IG for examples.  No IG? You can still access our account on 
  • Children’s artwork and clean humor are also welcomed and appreciated.
  • Tell you friends and neighbors!    

A Message of Encouragement

During this difficult time of covid-19, I hesitantly take the opportunity to share with you the concept that as a team of ISR instructors, we are familiar with finding joy in a mission that was born out of tragedy and hardship.

ISR was founded in 1966 by Dr. Harvey Barnett who was affected by drownings of kids in his community.  Through years of research coupled with incredible passion, ISR evolved into the high quality program that it is today.  Children can now be taught to swim, float, and self-rescue in the safe hands of highly trained Certified ISR Instructors.

It’s easy to underestimate water and its ability to snatch a child away from us in seconds.  Most families don’t believe drowning could happen to them, until it actually does happen to them or somebody they know.  When a family loses a child to drowning, their entire reality is taken from them in just one moment. They are forced to accept this new future that feels so foreign and sad.  They accept that, with zero notice, they will never hug their child again. Somehow, they are courageous and strong enough to move on.

Each day, our team goes to our respective pools all over the world to protect children from the unthinkable.  Most ISR instructors never imagined they’d spend their days working closely with mothers who have lost children, with children of first responders who’ve tried to save others from drowning, or of nurses and drs who also tried everything but were too late.  We didn’t expect that our own kids would be familiar with the names and faces of kids who have drowned. Our kids are not sheltered and they understand at very young ages that without the hard work that comes with self-rescue swim lessons, kids can’t float and be safe in the water.

ISR is a very serious business, but it is also important and also pretty amazing.  Almost anyone who experiences it is surprised that such a precautionary measure, huge commitment, and difficult exercise could yield so much hope, joy, pride and connection.  Children are capable of absolutely incredible things. Parents who experience this learn that they too are capable of committing to something truly daunting in order to both protect and empower their kids.

Again, this “job,” work, passion, mission or whatever you want to call it yields so much joy.  I wish with all of my heart that there was no such thing as drowning, that I could take all this away to put those children back in their parents’ arms.  This said, I can’t imagine a world without the teamwork, learning, and successes that this mission allows us to be part of.

While many people would choose not to expose themselves or their kids to such difficult conversations and concepts, at CAST, we believe in the power of truth and resilience.  As we suddenly find ourselves in a world where nobody is sheltered from the truth, we hope you will think of this and believe in the resilience of your entire family.

Nothing compares to losing a child, nor does anything compare to the fear we are all facing at this moment of uncertainty driven by Covid-19.  All I can say is, we aren’t the first to accept an unwanted change and we aren’t the first to face an uncertain future. ISR was founded as a response to a preventable tragedy and has evolved through the implementation of research, communication, teamwork, courage, patience, trust, and an extraordinary amount of love.

Let us dare to say that as we work through this difficult time, incredible amounts of good will come into the world.  We will need to be creative, we will need to work hard, and we will need to believe. Life will likely always be different, but it can be happy and safe again.

Our team at The CAST Water Safety Foundation humbly and proudly looks forward to the opportunity to continue increasing access to ISR lessons in Chicago and beyond.  Until we are back at the pool, we want to offer our friendship and time. We’ve navigated uncharted waters before, and we’d be grateful to hear from any or all of you.

Thank you for believing in us… don’t forget to believe in yourself too! Stay Strong, Stay Safe & Be well!