A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: How safe is your child’s summer camp; check it out and look for ACA accreditation

This time of the year parents everywhere are scrambling to plan out their summer schedule, including summer camps for the kids.

Summer camps for kids today could mean weeks of wilderness immersion with time spent swimming, rock climbing, singing and making crafts and making wonderful memories.

For many children, summer camp is a right of passage. There are camps for about every interest – swimming, sailing, equestrian, cheerleading, technology, sports, hiking, biking, tennis, theatre, outdoor cooking, bird-watching, etc. – and in nearly every format, from day camps to residential camps.

Click to go a camp accreditations.

For single parents and two working parent families’ summer camps can be a necessity or a nice alternative to their daycare solution. Summer camp help keep their kids active once school comes to a close offering ways for children to meet new friends, develop new skills, become more independent, broaden social skills, build self-esteem, form long-lasting friendships, learn new skills, teach responsibilities and provide physical activities while disconnecting from social media, television and their Xbox consoles.

The American Camp Association (ACA) reports that there are about 7,000 overnight camps and about 5,000-day camps in the U.S., for a total of more than 12,000 camps. These camps are attended each year by more than 11 million children and adults.

With all the fun and excitement surrounding summer camp, no parent could ever imagine that a camp experience would turn into a life-threatening experience, but tragedy can and does strike.

In the summer of 2015 a young 16-year-old teenager girl from Lakeland, FL, fell more than 100 feet out of a swing at a rope course in South Carolina while attending a Young Life and Adventure Experience summer camp.

Parents considering sending children to summer camp should consider more than just the cost and date of the camp. Careful consideration as it relates to safety procedures, medical protocols, and emergency aid measures should all be evaluated. When making your selections you should also ask the following questions:

Does the camp have ACA Accreditation?

The American Camp Association evaluates the camp’s safety, health, program, and camp operations. Some states have more in-depth standards needed for camp operators, while others are less desirable. In Kentucky, camps must be licensed and are regulated by the 902 KAR 10:040. The Kentucky Youth Camp program permits both residential camp facilities and day camp facilities. Local health departments conduct inspections of each youth camp twice per year, with follow-up inspections and complaint investigations as necessary. As a parent, I would highly recommend that you measure your summer camps to these standards and actually tour the facility prior enrollment.

How did the camp score on its last state inspection and were problems found?

Each camp must be inspected at least twice a year and then again when there are complaints. So don’t be afraid to ask to see those inspections or contact the state directly for inspection reports (click here).

Does the camp test for drugs and run background and sex offender checks on all counselors/employees?

Photo from ACA website

In the state of Kentucky, one of the flaws that I discovered while reading the state regulations is that camp operators are not required to run criminal background checks, sex offender checks or drug testing of their camp counselors and employees. The camp operator will verify information on resumes and maintain files with appropriate qualifications needed for the job, such as licenses, certifications, and references. Even though it’s not a state requirement, I still suspect that many do screen their employees to obtain the necessary adequate liability insurance coverages, but as a parent, you should still ask about how the camp handles these issues to help you make the best selection for your child.

What is the ratio of staff to campers?

In day camp, the standard is that there should be one senior counselor for every six children under the age of 6; one for every nine children between the ages of 6 and 7, and one for every 12 children who are 8 years old and above. For overnight camp, ensure that there is one senior counselor for every six children age 7 or under, and one for eight children that are 8 years old and above. As a parent, you should especially ask how supervision of the campers takes place, particularly on field trips, activities that may be risky, such as swimming, and, in overnight camps, during the nighttime, before and after lights out.

How does the camp address outdoor and weather safety?

The impact that weather and nature can have on summer camp safety depends on the types of activities of each specific camp. Day camps that operate in buildings, for example, are less susceptible to the trouble caused by unexpected storms. On the other hand, a program where kids go on extended camping or canoeing trips is going to have huge exposure to extreme weather. In addition, you should inquire how they prepare and deal with lightning, heat exhaustion and other weather- and nature-related emergencies. In general, camps will also want to prepare for other risks such as ticks that carry Lyme disease.

How does the camp handle emergencies?

Parents should be entitled to ask about previous emergencies, including injuries and deaths, and the plan that the camp follows should one occur. You may want to even search the Internet to see if they have had in prior recent incidents. This includes situations such as a lost child, a child injured during an activity, a child becoming ill with food poisoning or having a severe allergic reaction. You should inquire about out about CPR and First Aid certifications, what type of medical staff is available.

How does a camp address aquatics activities, swimming safety?

Swimming and aquatic activities are probably the single greatest life-threatening exposure camps will have. Many camps will staff trained lifeguards according to state requirements, but you should still inquire if camp counselors are adequately trained. No one knows campers better than their own counselors.

Counselors should be trained to inform lifeguards about any camper who isn’t a strong swimmer, who might be tired from earlier activities or is a little under the weather and may not be in tip-top shape. Camp counselors need to supervise their own kids closely even with a lifeguard present, and they, too, should be trained in water rescue. They should encourage a buddy system with all their kids, and as a counselor, they should never engage in horseplay.

What specific fire safety training do staff receive?

The entire staff should be trained in fire safety, and the camp should have a plan to prevent and respond to fires. Fire drills should be held within the first day or two of each camping session.

Are kids being transported?

Photo from ACA website

If the camp is transporting campers offsite, parents should inquire and review the camp’s fleet safety policies and how drivers are selected. Are they driving company buses or vans, or are they using their own personal vehicles to transport the kids? Are drivers MVR’s reviewed on at least an annual basis and what standards do they have in place to disqualify a counselor or employee as a driver? It’s also not a bad idea to review their preventative maintenance standards, and while you are there you should even kick the tires of their vehicles before you entrust your child under their care.

What measures does the camp take to prevent child abuse?

The entire staff should also be trained in recognizing and reporting child physical and sexual abuse. All counselors should have a clear understanding of inappropriate disciplinary procedures and what to do if they encounter others using them. They should also be trained in recognizing the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. Parents should also inquire how the camp disciplines children, and in what type of circumstances they would be contacted if their child’s behavior was problematic.

How does the camp screen for unwanted visitors?

Parents should make sure that there is a process in place to ensure that all unauthorized visitors are not allowed access to their children. It’s also important for the camps to account for attendance and dismissal from camps. Parents should have a plan in place designating how the children are to leave the camp, including the names of those who are authorized to visit or escort their children home.

How will your child be oriented to the camp?

Parents should check to see if the camps orient their campers correctly. They should be given a tour of the fun spaces and those designated as potentially dangerous or off-limit areas, along with the reasons why they should not enter them. Campers should be instructed and encouraged to report incidents of bullying, child abuse or any illness or injury to staff members. The buddy system, used often in swimming excursions, should be explained, as should the plan that is followed if a camper is lost.

Remember knowledge is power. Don’t be afraid to ask these and other questions before you entrust your child to a summer camp. It’s important to ensure that your children have a wonderful, exciting time attending these camps, but it’s more important that they have a safe experience.

Be safe, my friends.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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