Whether you’re the kind of parent that counts the days until your kids are away at overnight camp or the kind that checks summer camp websites every few hours for possible footage of your kiddo at play, all parents want one thing for their children from the away camp experience – to know they are safe.
Whether it’s a day camp or a longer stay, here are the things you can do to help ensure your children’s safety while they’re off making camping memories that will last a lifetime.
Camp Safety Record: Research the camp’s safety history thoroughly and be sure and ask about their accident record, including past emergencies, injuries and deaths.
Camp Emergency Procedures: Make sure all camp staff is required to be trained in first-aid/CPR and is thoroughly familiar with the camp’s emergency procedures in case of a medical emergency. You should receive a copy of those guidelines when you drop your child off at camp, or the very least they should be posted onsite or on the camp’s website. If they are not, request a copy of them.
ACA Accreditation: The American Camp Association evaluates camp safety, health, programs and camp operations – check to make sure your camp has this accreditation and/or is in compliance with state health codes.
Staff Screening:Ask about the background and experience of the counselors caring for your child. Ask the camp operator about their screening process – it should include verifying information on resumes, maintaining files with qualifications for each job, and including applicable licenses, certifications and references. Ask if they require a criminal background check and/or a search of the sex offender registry.
Staff to Child Ratio: How many staff members are there to children? Day camp vs. overnight camp ratios vary by age, but the counselor to child ratio should generally be 1 to 8 or less, with a smaller ratio in the younger age groups. The ratio is even lower for children with disabilities or serious health conditions.
Camper Orientation: Find out what the procedures are to orient campers. Your child should receive a tour of all areas of camp, including those spaces that are designated as dangerous or off-limits, with staff emphasizing the reasons why these areas are off-limits. Campers should also be encouraged to report child abuse, bullying, illness or injury to staff immediately. The buddy system should be instructed and implemented among campers, at least for swimming and hiking, and all campers should have instructions on what to do should they become lost. Fire safety, fire drills, and evacuation procedures should be reviewed as well.
Visitor Screening: Check with the camp to make sure they have a process for ensuring that unauthorized visitors on not on their campsite. Make sure there is a system in place for attendance and dismissal from camp. Be sure to share a list of emergency contacts, as well as the name of those people who have permission and authorization to visit or take your child home in your absence.
Allergies, Medications and Disabilities: Talk with camp staff about any special dietary needs or food allergies your child may have, and how these will be addressed to protect your child from a serious or life-threatening mix-up. Parents should provide a full description of any medications their child needs, and ask how the meds are stored, distributed and recorded. Also note any allergies, medical conditions or disabilities that staff may need to make special allowances for. Camps serving children with disabilities must have a qualified camp director with experience working with the developmentally disabled on site, and should have camp facilities, grounds and vehicles that accommodate disabled children. Be sure to leave your emergency contact information in case something happens to your child.
By taking the time to ask the right questions, supply the right information and do your research as a parent, you can make sure that your child’s memories of camp are safe ones.