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Safety first: Choosing a safe camp

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When researching a summer camp for your child, there are many things you need to consider. You want to make sure to choose a camp that has a philosophy that matches your own family’s values, an appropriate program for your child’s needs, and a camp that is fully committed to providing a summer of fun and growth in a well-supervised and safe environment. But what is the best way to discover how safe a camp is before registering? The American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, recommends parents consider the following when looking for a camp for their child:

Camp director

One of the most important parts of researching a camp is looking at who the director is. Parents should inquire about the director’s background and if he or she is a year-round camp professional or a seasonal employee. Year-round professionals spend the year focused on the camp and concentrate on youth development, along with recreation. Parents also want to make sure they feel comfortable with the director and that he or she is able to answer any questions you may have about summer camp safety.

Camp review

It is imperative that the camp a parent chooses for her child is regulated and has outside review. In New York State, single-purpose indoor camps can operate without a license from the Department of Health. Parents want to make sure that the camp they choose has a license from the Department of Health and meets basic safety standards. Those that choose to become accredited by the American Camp Association go above a state’s basic licensing requirements and address specific areas of programming, personnel, health care, emergency response, management practices, and youth development. Choosing an accredited camp is a parent’s best evidence of a camp’s commitment to a safe program.

Staff composition

Inquire about a camp’s staff composition. Parents want to look for a camp director who addresses child protection and safety issues with knowledge and sensitivity. Ask about who is caring for your child. Ask about age of staff, experience, pre-season and on-going staff training, background checks, the interview process, camper-staff ratios, work history checks, and character references.

Special considerations

If your child has special considerations such as a medical condition or a food allergy, you want to ask the director how he or she handles such considerations and if he or she has had another camper with similar issues. You want to make sure the camp can handle your child’s needs.

Medical staff

Ask if there is a doctor or nurse in residence or on call for campers at all times. Parents want to also make sure the camp has Epi-Pens and automated external defibrillators on site and that it employs staff members trained to use them.

Staff training

Find out what topics are covered during a camp’s staff training. At a minimum, staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision. If there are waterfront activities, families want to make sure they are supervised by a certified lifeguard.

Safety procedures

Ask about the safety measures that are in place. These can include inquiring about medical personnel on property, emergency plans for natural disasters or evacuations, security guards, staff screening procedures, and instructor qualifications.

Out of camp trips

Ask how the camp handles field trips and safety procedures that are in place for these trips. Find out if the campers and staff wear shirts to be easily identifiable, if accompanying staff have first aid and CPR training, a lost camper plan, if staff carry cellphones, and what the staff-to-camper ratio is.

Camp references

One of the best ways to find out about a camp’s safety record is to ask for references. Ask other parents about the experiences of their children and if they are going back next summer. Be specific and ask for a reference from your town or child’s age group to ensure the camp isn’t giving out the same few phone numbers to each parent.

Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the summer camp experience. Parents looking for a camp for their child can contact the organization for free, one-on-one advice in finding a camp at (212) 391–5208.

Posted 12:00 am, March 22, 2018
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