By Jess Michaels, American Camp Association, NY and NJ
When choosing a summer camp, parents want to make sure they take an active role in determining that the camp they are sending their child to is fully committed to providing a summer of fun and growth in a well supervised and safe camp environment. Parents should make sure they feel comfortable with the camp director and that he or she is willing and happy to answer any question you may have about the camp program and about safety at camp. Here is a list of recommended questions parents should ask the camp director about a summer camp’s safety.
- Camp Review – It is important that a camp reviewed. Ask if the camp program is inspected each summer by the Department of Health and if the camp is ACA Accredited. ACA-Accreditation is a way of grading how camps are doing. The Standards against which camps are measured ensure that each camp complies with approximately 300 distinct health, safety, and program-quality benchmarks. Beyond a state’s basic licensing requirements, ACA Standards address specific areas of programming, personnel, health care, emergency response, management practices and youth development.
- Camp Director – Inquire about the camp director’s background and if he or she is a year round camp professional or a seasonal employee. Year-round camp professionals spend the year focused on camp and concentrate on youth develop, along with recreation.
- Staff composition and screening – 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, staff ratios, the interview process, and camper-staff ratios, work history checks, and character references
- Staff training– Find out what topics are covered during staff training. At a minimum, camp 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.
- Medical staff- Ask if there is a doctor or nurse in residence or on call for campers at all times. Parents want to be sure there is a nurse or doctor on staff or on call at all times. Parents want to also make sure the camp has epi-pens and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on site and that the camp employs staff members trained to use them.
- 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, staff screening procedures, and instructor qualifications.
- Special protocol for off camp ground trips – If campers are going off camp grounds, ask if the accompanying staff have first aid and CPR training, a buddy system or lost camper plan. Find out if counselors bring communication devices with them out of camp.
- Camp references - Look for a camp director who welcomes your request to contact other camp parents. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for references. This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp's reputation and service record. Ask other parents about the experiences of their children at the camp and if they are going back next summer. Families can also ask these parents for the names of other parents and children who have attended the camp.
Families looking for a summer camp can contact Renee Flax at the American Camp Association, NY and NJ for free, one-on-one advice in finding a summer camp. Call 212.391.5208 or visit www.acanynj.org.