6 Tips to Remember When Choosing a Summer Camp

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Summertime is here! For many children, that means participating in sleep-away camps, day camps or other activities run by youth-serving organizations. As a parent or caregiver, you want to make sure your child has a fun and memorable summer in a safe environment. So, what are the right questions to ask when evaluating summer camps?

Summer camps can offer rich, positive experiences for children. But they also can be targets for individuals who may wish to harm children, as they offer the potential for frequent interaction with children away from their network of trusted caregivers. As part of your summer camp selection process, remember the following six tips:

1) Learn about the camp’s reputation and policies.

Look into the camp’s history; even camps that have been around for a while might not be guaranteed to be safe places for children. See if there have ever been serious complaints made against the camp or any of its past and present workers. Of course, look for any past incidents of sexual abuse at the camp (see #5 for tips on references).

Also, look into the camp’s staff. Ideally, all camp counselors should be put through stringent background checks before they get hired to work with children, but do your research to make sure the camp appears to be making smart and safe choices when it comes to both their policies and their workers. You should do enough research to be able to have an understanding about the camp’s reputation and their policies. While a camp’s long history may look impressive, only thorough research can help you feel confident it’s the right place to send your child.

2) Make sure the camp has a high standard of accreditation.

Startling fact: Many youth-serving organizations have not passed the 300 different health and safety tests required for accreditation by the American Camp Association (ACA). Some of these organizations are not even licensed. Double-check for these camp credentials! If a camp is accredited, it means they are a responsible organization that takes their job, facilities and the care and safety of your child seriously.

3) Investigate their child safety protocol.

As mentioned before, background checks may be included in the camp’s safety protocol. The most important aspect of the protocol, however, should be employee training. Employees of the camp should be trained on how to recognize signs of sexual or physical abuse; understand how to talk to children about it; and know when and how to report suspected abuse.

Ask the camp’s leadership about how well-trained their employees are in recognizing abuse or other problems involving their campers and if they know how to handle a sensitive situation.

4) Ensure there is a plan in place to communicate with your child.

When your child is away, it helps to know that they can contact you when needed, and vice versa. Communication between you, your child and the camp should be immediate and easy. If something happens, the camp needs to have a plan on how to reach you. So, whether it’s accessible phones for your child or an action plan for emergencies, make sure the camp is prepared for anything.

5) Always ask for references.

Ask parents about the camp. Find out what they – and their child – think of the staff, and factor their experiences into your opinion when choosing a camp. The camp will likely provide these references if you have none.

When looking for references, don’t shy away from the tough questions. Ask if there have been any known incidents regarding abuse in any way, or if there were any instances where the child felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

6) Make sure staff members have proper certifications.

Most camps, but not all, require every staff member to have Red Cross CPR/AED/O2 certifications. Make sure to ask a director or coordinator if they and their staff have Red Cross or equivalent certifications and are up to date on them (as many do expire after one year). A camp should be able to ensure that every staff member is prepared to protect each child while they are at camp; this includes keeping them safe from abuse and injury. If you don’t feel 100% confident in the camp’s safety standards and training, cross it off the list.

Don’t forget: summertime and summer camp are all about having FUN! However, not every organization is a safe choice. Keeping these points in mind will help you find a camp that both you and your child are comfortable with, for this summer and many more to come.