In this article, Corey Andres, parent, professional educator, and former camp director, discusses camp safety and provides guidance on how parents can make informed decisions regarding camp and their children’s safety.
The 10 Questions You Should Ask Before Sending Your Child to Camp
The traditional camp experience can provide fantastic opportunities for your child to grow social skills, develop interests in new activities and hobbies, meet new friends, and gain confidence by learning new skills. Camp is popular with parents because of the many benefits it can provide to children. Statistically, camp experiences are safer than other recreational activities young people participate in. The American Camp Association (ACA) published The Healthy Camp Study highlighting the injury rates for youth participating in camps compared to other common youth sports (2006-2010).
Injury Rates for Youth Participating in Day and Resident Camps Compared with Injury Rates for Youth Participating in Common Youth Sports (2006–2010)*
As a forensic expert in the area of camp administration and child supervision I have seen a number of camp experiences that did not go well for the camper. Oftentimes the injuries and fatalities taking place at camp and youth trips can be avoided with proper training, risk assessment, and risk mitigation.
As a parent, professional educator, and former camp director, I am often shocked at the disproportionate efforts parents put into selecting daycare centers, kindergarten programs, and school districts for their children when compared to their relative minimal efforts in selecting a camp. I am not sure if the illusion of goodhearted fun distorts their decision making, but rarely do parents stop to ask critical questions about how their child will be cared for during camp before registering.
1. What is your staffing ratio? (Campers/Counselors)
The ACA provides recommendations for staffing ratios and all camp directors should be able to provide an answer to this question. Supervision is more than an “optimal” ratio. The campers’ age, needs, developmental abilities, activities, and location of activities all play an important role in developing appropriate supervision strategies. Ask the question and start the conversation!
2. Do you perform background checks of all staff?
It is a shocking fact that 22 states do not require background checks for staff! Many camps that follow nationally recognized standards from the American Camp Association exceed state requirements, but don’t assume that every camp performs a background check for all staff members!
3. How many days of training do you provide staff?
It is alarming that many camps rely exclusively on volunteers for staffing. Providing training to staff and volunteers is critical. Understanding how many days, and in some cases, how many hours of training are provided to staff can give you a quick snapshot into the priority the camp places on preparing their staff and volunteers to take care of your child.
4. Can I have a copy of your training manual?
Reviewing a training manual is a great way to see what a camp values. I have looked through numerous camp staff training manuals and found they reflect the attitudes, priorities, and values of a camp. It might be shocking how little, or reassuring how much, time is given to camper safety!
5. Do you follow ACA Accreditation Guidelines?
The ACA has nationally recognized standards required to become accredited. The standards, when followed, help minimize the risk of illness and injury in camp settings.
6. How many incidents have you had in the last 5 years requiring outside medical treatment? (More than just a scrapped knee, scratch, or bruise)
This question speaks for itself and will be an interesting springboard to further conversation. If there have been incidents requiring outside medical care, ask how they have changed policies and procedures to reduce a similar incident from happening in the future.
7. What aquatic activities do you provide?
The risks associated with aquatic activities are well known and require specific safety strategies. If the camp has a registration form or supply list and they indicate your camper should have a swimming suit it may be due to their slip-n-slide, water balloon toss, a trip to a water park, or a canoeing trip. Ask the question so you can prepare the camp for your camper’s skill set and also prepare your child to speak up if they are uncomfortable in or around water.
8. Are life jackets and lifeguards on site for all aquatic activities?
If camps head to aquatic facilities, lakes, rivers, or beaches, they should have a plan for camper safety. Find out what they do to protect campers.
9. What are your safety guidelines for shooting sports? (Archery, Rifle range)
The camp should have strict policies and procedures for these activities and the counselor/director in charge of these activities should have specialized training.
10. If zip lines and ropes courses are available are courses and equipment inspected daily?
There are many questions to ask surrounding zip lines and high ropes courses but asking if they are offered is a good starting point. Equipment and course should be inspected daily. The staff should have specialized training to supervise these activities.
Camp experiences statistically are safer than most youth sports but asking questions to camp directors before you register your child will help you make a responsible choice when it comes to selecting a camp focused on the safety of your child.
Corey is a sports and recreation expert, who specializes in recreation and sports programming, coaching, athletic conditioning, and youth camp supervision and administration. Corey is a competitive athlete as well as a professional educator with more than seventeen years of professional experience. Throughout his adult life, Corey has been actively involved in coaching school-sponsored and club sports. He is also active as a camp counselor and camp administrator for youth programs. Corey’s coaching, teaching, and camp counseling experience extends to children of all levels of mental and physical ability.