School’s out, sun’s out, and for many families, it’s time to gear up for camp! For many parents, the carefree, fun-filled memories of summer camp are the kinds of gifts we dream of providing our children. Yet today, sending a child to camp raises new and important questions. Questions about safety. It seems there are ever more bases to cover before deciding on the right camp for your child. So before you choose a program for your child, make sure to consider these important points:
Licensing & Accreditation. There’s a difference. While summer camps are often required to be licensed (depending on the state), accreditation is optional. Although licensing varies from state to state, it generally refers to the enforcement of regulations pertaining to sanitation and food services. In order to achieve accreditation, a program must not only comply with mandatory standards, but they must also comply with additional standards, often pertaining to program operational areas and quality. These additional standards are often government recognized best practices. A camp that is both licensed and has achieved accreditation, is a good sign that the program is committed to a safe environment for campers and staff.
Camp Site. A tour of the camp is a good start once you have found out if the camp is licensed and accredited. Ask about fire protection and camp maintenance. As you explore the camp grounds, pay attention to the sleeping areas (if applicable) and the bathroom facilities. You may also want to consider the eating facilities and areas of play or learning in evaluating camp safety.
Staffing. Certainly a topic to inquire about. After all, it’s good to know about the backgrounds of the people caring for your child. Consider asking about the hiring and screening process. How does the camp recruit, hire, and screen employees? Are staff subject to criminal background checks? Additionally, you’ll also want to ask about staff experience, qualifications, licensing, certifications, training, and counselor to camper ratio.
Safety Management. Become familiar with the camp’s safety procedures, plans, and practices. Don’t be afraid to ask about past emergencies or potential scenarios/circumstances. It’s helpful to understand prevention, management and recovery efforts when assessing whether you feel the camp is prepared to keep your child safe in the event of an emergency. Scenarios to consider inquiring about can be: how does the camp handle a lost or missing child, an unauthorized visitor, a hurt or ill child, a fire emergency, bullying, or an active assailant? How will the camp communicate with parents if there is an emergency? Make sure you feel comfortable with safety and security regulations, as well as disciplinary procedures.
Health Care. Determine whether you are comfortable with their onsite healthcare offerings and off-site health care availability. What kind of health services does the camp offer? Is there an onsite health facility or nurse? If so, what kinds of emergencies and illnesses are they prepared to handle? If emergency attention and transportation is needed, where is the nearest hospital and how long would the ambulance take to arrive at the camp? If your child has special needs, communicate your concerns to help you determine if you feel confident in their management and accommodations.
Special Needs. What should you look for if your child has a disability? Ask about staff training and qualifications. Are there staff trained to work with campers who have special needs? How much experience do they have? What sorts of disabilities are they familiar with? Is the camp able to provide special accommodations if needed? If your camper needs to have medicine administered, who will be in charge? Like school, make sure you communicate all your concerns and needs with the camp director in assessing whether you feel safe entrusting your child to the camp.
Transportation & Field Trips. Like school, field trips may be an occurrence at camp. Learn about where campers will be going and what method of transportation will be used to get to and from the destination. If transportation is via bus or shuttle, you may even consider asking about the driver’s training and driving record, or how they were screened.
The best way to determine whether a camp is safe and right for your child is by asking questions and exploring the site. Don’t hesitate to cover all your bases, asking questions similar to the ones you would ask your child’s school.