No matter how old we get, or how ‘grown up’ our children seem, there’s always room for one more first-time adventure. For some parents, sending our kids to a summer camp is one such event, complete with apprehension of the unknown. The biggest concern newbie camp parents have is how to ensure our children will be safe while away from home. To make the process a little easier, here are a few questions to consider when looking at camp options.
Is the camp accredited?
The American Camp Association is a nonprofit organization that accredits both day and sleep-over camps. With more than 300 standards that cover everything from camp facilities, vehicles and programming to counselor training requirements and how technology is handled, ACA accreditation offers parents peace of mind. An accredited camp has fulfilled rigorous requirements and is well prepared to take care of your child.
What do other parents have to say?
Regardless of accreditation status, the best place to start when considering camp options is often those parents and kids who have previous experience at the camps you find appealing. If you don’t know anyone, ask the camp director for references and phone numbers of previous campers. Most camper families are happy to share their experiences with you and will often answer the questions you have (and many more) without being asked.
How are staff selected?
Once you find a camp that looks promising, interview the camp director, not only about the program itself, but also about how staff are selected and screened with these key questions:
- What’s the minimum age for counselors? The ACA standards recommend at least 80 percent of staff be 18 or older, with 16 being the minimum age for junior counselors. They also recommend all counselors be at least two years older than campers under their supervision.
- Are criminal background checks conducted on ALL staff members and volunteers, regardless of age?
- Are ALL staff members and volunteers screened through the National Sex Offender registry?
- Are trained medical staff present?
The ACA recommends a licensed physician or registered nurse be on site 24/7 for overnight camps, while day camps may have prearranged phone access to a clinic or medical professional. Ask:
- Are other staff members trained in CPR and first aid?
- If your child has a special condition, such as food or insect-related allergies, is the staff trained to recognize an emergency and respond appropriately?
- Where is the nearest doctor’s office and hospital?
- Who will ensure your child receives daily medications, if required?
- How and when will parents be notified in the event of an emergency?
- Aquatics, equestrian, ATV activities?
While discussing safety policies with the camp director, don’t forget to inquire about the rules for activities requiring additional precautions.
- Are helmets required with all equestrian, ATV, or go-kart activities?
- Are certified lifeguards present at all water activities?
- Are firearms, ammo, and archery equipment locked and secured when not in use?
- Are all activities supervised by trained personnel at all times?
- Will campers travel?
Some campers enjoy the benefit of off-site activities. The ACA recommends all parents be provided with written information containing drop-off/pick-up times, safety procedures, and the safety rules for riding a van or bus.
- Are drivers trained in backing up vehicles, loading passengers, evacuation of vehicles, and other emergency procedures?
- Are campers required to use seat belts at all times?
- If your child has special needs, such as wheelchair usage, are drivers trained on proper safety precedures?
While many more factors play a significant part in choosing a camp, such as bunking arrangements, same-sex versus co-ed camp, and bullying policies, answering safety-related concerns can put your mind at ease as you continue your quest for the perfect summer camp. After a summer or two under your belt, you’ll be an old-pro, passing on your wisdom to other newbie campers.
For help selecting an ACA accredited camp or to review the organization’s accreditation standards, visit their website at acacamps.org.