Allowing your baby to be dipped into a hotel swimming pool by a stranger may not seem like something many parents would engage in, but the rising popularity of underwater photography would suggest otherwise.
A growing trend in submerged baby images has led to the proliferation of providers, but the practice is largely unregulated, as are baby and toddler swimming lessons.
This is why the ASA, in partnership with Water Babies and Splash About, is promoting new guidelines, which will set standards in both these areas, informing organisations and empowering parents.
For the ASA’s head of Learn to Swim, Jon Glenn, the new code of practice, which was published by the British Standards Institution, will “get parents to ask questions.”
“We know that people are booking hotel pools and putting posters up and saying bring along your child to have their picture taken. And that’s not the way it should be done.
“We are trying to make sure that we can mitigate against those ‘turn up and dip’ companies.”
The mantra to keep in mind, he says, is “check, challenge and, if necessary, change.”
This is equally important in relation to baby and toddler swimming classes, he adds.
“So if you are going to take your child to a swimming class, ask if the teacher is qualified, what the temperature is and those kinds of things. If we can make that happen then that will make a big difference.”
The national guidelines give detailed advice, from suggesting the optimum pool temperature to promoting the ‘double nappy system’.
The initiative aims to drive up safety standards, reassure parents and improve children’s swimming experience.
According to Mr Glenn: “For the baby and toddler swimming industry this was essential, because there was nothing out there that brought together disparate guidance and advice from different organisations, which was not necessarily wrong, but it just wasn’t consistent.
“It will shape things as we go forward, it will shape the quality of delivery for babies and toddlers. For me this is really important, because if a child’s first experience is bad the parent or child will not go back, they will choose to do something else.”
He also hopes that the guidance will give parents the confidence to get much more involved in their child’s learning.
“If you can get your children used to being in the water, in that aquatic environment, and having fun then it just makes learning to swim so much easier. It is a skill, and the earlier you introduce it, the easier it is at a later date to get those strokes.
“There are fundamental aquatics skills that include things that are as simple as blowing bubbles, being comfortable in water, knowing how to flip over onto your back.
“The more the parents can be in there the better. Go swimming with your children, have fun with your children in the water, play games,” he says.
Mr Glenn was speaking at the launch of the new code of practice, which took place last week in Parliament.
Political engagement, he says, is a vital part of raising public awareness on these issues.
“Firstly, it is about making policy makers aware of the issues. Secondly, it is about letting them know that the resources are there, so that they know that there are guidelines that they can refer to. If, for example, there is a question from one of their constituents on this issue, they will know how to address it.”
Also speaking at the event was Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish and Water Babies’ Managing Director Steve Franks.
Expressing his support on the issue, Mr Parish said it was “essential that babies learn to swim and we all have that level of safety, so that if we do fall in water we are going to be able to get out.”
Mr Franks added that the guidelines represent “a line in the sand for the delivery of best industry practice.
“UK governments, irrespective of political colour are quite right to come out in unison to express concerns about our obesity epidemic. What we are seeking to achieve here is to contribute to getting people more active, more often and from as young an age as possible.
“We now have the vehicle to contribute to that important change agenda, in a positive and sustained way that will keep people much more engaged and motivated to stay physically active as families.”
Building on this work, Mr Glenn explains how the accreditation of services could be applied in the future.
“One of the ways that the ASA can raise standards is by accrediting baby and toddler swimming programmes and we are going to be looking at that over the next year.
“We have established a review group and we are looking now at what would make up the accreditation criteria.
“We have done it for clubs and we have done it for child and adult swimming lessons, so it is not a difficult process for us to do,” he says.
Having been at the ASA for over 14 years, it is clear that Mr Glenn is still passionate about driving the sport forward.
“It always sounds a bit dramatic,” he laughs, “but we really are making a difference in the health and wellbeing of the nation.”