1. Is the camp ACA (American Camp Association) accredited? Although accreditation does not assure safety, and some states, have more rigorous safety requirements, accreditation is a very good place to start. The ACA evaluates many standards concerning safety, health, program and camp operations, and provides support to over 2,200 camps.
2. “Staff Training” or “Counselor Orientation” programs are not all the same. To understand what the counselors are taught, and by whom, you may want to see the training curriculum and training materials. For instance, does the camp share with its counselors the general and activity specific safety requirements they say they DO? Is there a process to document training attendance? Is there a test that counselors need to pass? Is there a document counselors must sign affirming that they understand and will abide by all safety rules and procedures? Ask your camp directors these questions and see if your satisfied with their answers.
3. Your child’s safety and well-being directly depends on the type of counselors the camp hires. Counselors are the individuals living and eating with, and supervising, your child 24 hours a day. Ask about the camp’s screening process, and review the materials the camp has gathered concerning the counselors, including their biographical backgrounds (and ages), their swimming, driving and criminal records, and their prior employment histories (for example, has a counselor previously been fired elsewhere?). You may also want to know what percentage of the counselors are teachers and/or parents, and what percentage possess a current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certificate and/or are trained in first aid?
4. Not all camps discipline staff or children attending the camp, in the same manner. You may want to learn the camp’s discipline policies and ask certain questions: (a) does it enforce a written policy of zero tolerance for drug use or alcohol abuse (are counselors fired after first time drug use/alcohol abuse is discovered?); (b) does it enforce a written staff and/or child curfew and, if so, what time?; and (c) has it fired counselors before and why?
5. Find out if there have been prior deaths or serious injuries at the camp. You may want to learn what happened and what the camp has done in response.
6. For all out-of-camp trips, particularly hikes and excursions, does there exist a specific protocol? You may want to ensure that the camp requires (a) a trip leader qualified to Respond To Emergencies (“RTE”) (as required in some states) (this Red Cross certification requires significant hours of specialized training); (b) counselors to bring with them communication devices; (c) the counselor-in-charge to be over a certain age; (d) a buddy system to be employed; (e) a lost camper plan to be followed; and (f) a parental permission slip to be signed.
7. Has the camp identified possible major threats to the camp, staff, or guests? Do they have an emergency plan?
· Environmental threats — earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, dam collapses, and tornadoes.
· Security threats — hostile parents or visitors, hostage situations, verbalized threats, and child abduction.
· Health threats — intentional or unintentional food poisoning or water contamination, child abuse, communicable disease outbreaks, staff death, and group-wide emotional stress resulting from a catastrophic event.
· Off-site hazards — off-site trips, airports, nuclear power plants, and dangerous wildlife.
8. All camps should have written health policies and protocols that have been approved by a physician with a particular knowledge of children’s health, preferably a pediatrician.
9. Camp authorities should be responsible for describing to the parents the activities and programs and the health services available at the camp. Parents should be aware of the preadmission medical requirements at the time of registration.
10. Before the child’s first day of camp, parents or guardians should provide the camp authorities with a health history, including the child’s significant previous illnesses, operations, injuries, allergies, present state of health, and current medical problems. Also, orders from a licensed health care professional should be obtained for prescription medications, diets, or special medical devices such as inhalers or nebulizers.
For more camp information, go to www.acacamps.org.
Now that you have a summer camp safety strategy, you and your child can have a great summer camp experience. Especially, when you’re able to sleep at night knowing they are in a safe and well-staffed environment.