There are so many things you need to consider when choosing a camp. The right program, camp directors you feel comfortable with, and, of course, a camp that is fully committed to providing a safe camp environment for your child. When choosing a camp, parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask the camp director about safety at camp. We spoke with two camp directors about some safety aspects at camp you should inquire about when choosing a camp. You should also feel that you can ask your camp director any questions you have about safety—and he or she should be happy to address all your concerns.
Doug Volan, owner and director of Mount Tom Day Camp in New Rochelle, NY, wants parents to know there are three types of day camps with different levels of safety. “There are camps that have a permit from the Department of Health, ones that go above and beyond just having a permit and are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), and camps that don’t even have a permit. If a camp doesn’t have a permit, it means they aren’t regulated and may not meet basic safety standards. When choosing a camp, make sure to ask if the camp has a permit and is accredited.”
Parents should also inquire about the camp director when considering the safety of a camp. “Ask how long the camp director has been there, how much experience they have, and if being a camp director is their full time job,” Volan says. “Some camps just hire a camp director in April and these directors change year to year while others are full time camp directors who participate in professional development and focus on camp year round.”
“There are non-negotiables when considering camp safety such as camp security, counselor–camper ratios, background checks on staff, and general safety in regard to the facility and ground maintenance,” says Ryan Peters, executive director of Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village, a Jewish co-ed overnight camp in PA. “Besides the physical safety of campers, parents also want to ask about the emotional well-being of their children and how the camp handles certain situations. We talk to parents about what our philosophy is for managing the emotional safety of our campers. This can include bullying, purposeful exclusion, gossiping or how eye rolling can make a child feel badly. I look at camp through the lens of how to make camp one big happy family and how to handle and protect those involved in situations such as these.”
Ask how the camp handles out of camp trips. “When campers leave camp, we need to be more vigilant,” Peters says. “Our staff does crisis training for when out of camp as well as on camp property so our staff is prepared. We require all campers and staff to wear uniforms so they are easily recognizable, staff is always reachable by phone and our staff to camper ratios increases when on a trip out of camp.”
Parents want to ask about the medical staff at camp. “If a camp doesn’t have a permit, they don’t need a nurse or health director. They also don’t need a safety plan or emergency plan since that’s not required,” Volan adds. “Ask if the camp has an emergency plan to show different scenarios have been thought out and that there is a plan in place. Parents want to know if something unexpected happens the camp is prepared with a plan.”
Allergy management at camp has become a big focus for camp directors. “We spend a lot of time ensuring that people who need to know the allergy information of a child has all the information and are prepared,” Peters comments. “Whether it is food allergies or bee stings, we always need a plan in place for children with severe allergies and EpiPens travel with every group even if there isn’t a child with an allergy. Any time a trip goes out of camp, every aspect of the trip has to be planned including calls to the amusement parks, restaurants and camps holding tournaments.”
One of the best ways to find out about a camp’s safety record is to ask the camp for references. It’s valuable to hear from other parents about their experiences at a given camp and if there were any safety issues. Peters adds: “I always recommend being specific with a camp and asking for a child from your neighborhood, child’s school or within a certain age range. This forces a camp to not just give the same two names out to all parents.”