Jun 12 2016
Summer camp can be great fun and is often a rite of passage for many kids. Camps help our children experience new activities, make new friends, explore diversity, and help foster independence. Plus, it’s pretty great to get them outdoors, instead of sitting behind a computer, TV or video gaming screen. If you’re sending your child to camp this summer (day camp or sleepaway camp), it’s our job to make sure we’re choosing the safest environment we can.
Here are 7 questions a parent should ask when choosing a camp, AND 7 things to talk to your child about as they go off.
7 QUESTIONS A PARENT SHOULD ASK:
1. Are you ACA accredited? Not a foolproof guarantee, but it does indicate they’ve taken the necessary steps to meet health and safety standards, and also indicates that the camp takes its responsibilities seriously.
2. How do you screen staff:
* Who are the counselors (high school or college students, hired hands?)
* What are the camp’s training and supervision policies?
* Who supervises the counselors and CIT’s (counselors in training)?
* Is there any staff training regarding physical boundaries, certain language or
precautions concerning discipline?
* How are employees screened?
Background checks, fingerprinting, sex offender register? Again no guarantees, but you’d be surprised who or what can slip through the cracks if the camp administrators don’t do their “due diligence” ahead of time. The camp administrator should be able to answer this question quickly and clearly. Don’t settle for excuses like “we know everyone here, we’ve never had to worry about it…”
3. Who’s sleeping where / who’s changing where/What kind of supervision is there during this? No supervisor, CIT, or counselor should EVER be changing in front of the kids they’re in charge of. In plain English, counselors should never be UNCLOTHED when kids are around! This is for the kids’ safety as well as the reputation of the camp and the counselors. Older kids should have separate sleeping quarters from younger children.
4. Is the staff trained to recognize signs in someone’s behavior that indicate they should not be around kids? Child molesters are notorious for finding ways to be around children and hide their “true selves” around unsuspecting or naïve employers. Their typical grooming trick is to favor one child, and then take that child out of group activities to do something “special” elsewhere. Let your camp administrator know ahead of time that your child is to stay with the group at all times unless there is a serious medical emergency. They should not be alone with one adult or counselor in a private environment (like the changing rooms, cabins, woods, etc.) Counselors are mandated reporters — the camp must do this staff training with counselors before the job starts!
5. How do they handle emergencies such as: lost child, injuries, severe allergic reactions (food, insect bite, etc.) Staff should be CPR trained, and there should be some kind of medical staff, nurse, or medic available.
6. What’s the ratio of staff to children? A good standard to go by: 2 staff members per 8-10 children, depending on age groups.
7. Can I meet my child’s counselor or communicate by phone, at least on the first day? If possible, meet your child’s counselor ahead of time or at least on the first day of camp and let them know you and your child have set up certain family rules and have had conversations about appropriate boundaries and behaviors. When YOU put out a “visible parent vibe”, you significantly lower the risk of someone targeting your child.
Don’t be afraid to ask these questions.
It’s ok to ensure that your child’s summer camp experience is both fun and safe! NEXT…
7 THINGS TO TELL YOUR CHILDREN AS THEY GO OFF TO CAMP:
1. You’re the Boss of Your Body! No one is allowed to touch you in any way that makes you feel yucky, weird, or uncomfortable. And no one should try to play any kind of “touching games” with Private Parts… not an adult, a counselor or another camp kid.
2. It’s OK to say “Stop Touching Me” or “HANDS OFF MY BODY” to anyone at camp… including another camper, a bigger kid or even a grownup or counselor. You actually have to teach kids HOW to say this ahead of time and tell them they have permission to tell anyone to “stop touching.” Practice this before they go off to camp.
3. Stay with your group all the time, especially on field trips and outings. Even if you’re bored or restless, it’s not okay to go wandering off somewhere else.
4. If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable or you’re having any kind of problem, tell your counselor right away. DON’T WAIT. Be honest with your counselor and let them know if you need them to help you with anything. No one should make you feel guilty, or “yucky”.
5. If your counselor doesn’t help you or is part of what is making you feel uncomfortable, tell another safe grownup at camp – maybe another counselor or the camp director. (Parents: be sure your child knows several different counselors or adults at camp ahead of time.)
6. Set up a code word or phrase in case your camper wants to call you for help or to come and get them in an emergency. Often, a kid may not want everyone to hear that they are calling home or even WHY they are calling their parents. A code word between the parents and child is a great way to set up a “safety system” and it really helps your child feel like “my parents have my back!”
7. Tell your child clearly: YOU are my #1 priority… and I will always stand by you and believe you if you are scared or sad about any experience. You can tell me anything & I’ll support you. PARENTS: WE HAVE TO LET OUR KIDS KNOW AHEAD OF TIME THAT WE HAVE THEIR BACKS, NO MATTER WHAT.
Remember: practice makes perfect. Go over a few safety rules and scenarios before they leave for camp. Keep the dialog light but clear. If it’s their first time at sleepaway camp, let your child know it’s normal to feel a little homesick at first. That just means you love your family! In a few days, it will pass as you get involved with all the fun, new activities. Enjoy!