As you get ready to send your child to camp this summer, keep in mind the advice in this guest post from Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D., executive director, The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Summer camp—whether day camp or sleepaway—brings a boost of independence for children, but also brings to mind thoughts of safety procedures, medical protocol, and emergency aid measures that should be securely in place at each site.
To ensure your child is in the best possible care this summer, make sure you can answer the following questions:
· Does the camp have American Camp Association accreditation? This voluntary procedure evaluates the camp's safety, health, program, and camp operations on up to 300 standards, exceeding basic requirements.
· How are staff members screened? Know the background and experience of the counselors caring for your child. The camp operator should verify information on resumes and check on licenses, certifications, and references. Some states require a criminal background check and a search of the sex-offender registry too.
· What is the ratio of staff to children? ACA standards require different ratios for varying ages and special needs. At day camps the ratios range from: one staff member for every six campers ages 4 and 5; one staff member for every eight campers ages 6 to 8; one staff member for every 10 campers ages 9 to 14; and one staff member for every 12 campers ages 15 to 17. The camp should also be able to tell you campers are supervised—particularly on field trips, and during activities that may be risky, such as swimming.
· How does the camp screen visitors? Make sure there is a protocol to ensure that unauthorized visitors are not allowed access to your child. It's also important for the camps to account for attendance and dismissal. If your camp doesn't already have a policy—and most will—you should have a plan designating how your child is to leave the camp, including the names of those that have permission to visit or escort your child home.
· How does the camp handle emergencies? Ask about past emergencies and the plan that the camp follows should one occur. This includes situations like fire or water/pool accidents, lost children, injuries, and allergic reactions. Find out about CPR and First Aid certifications, what type of medical staff is available, and the hospital with which the camp is affiliated. Provide a description of any medications your child needs, allergies your child has, and emergency contact information. (Again, ACA camps will already require this information.)
· How will your child be oriented to the camp? If she hasn't already, your child should receive a camp tour, including both the fun spaces and those that are designated as potentially dangerous or off-limits, along with the reasons why campers should not enter them. Children should be instructed and encouraged to report incidents of bullying to staff members. The Buddy System should be explained, as should the plan that is followed if a camper is lost.
· What happens if your child misbehaves? The counselors should have a clear understanding of appropriate disciplinary procedures. Find out how the camp disciplines children, and in what type of circumstance you would be contacted if your child's behavior is problematic.
· What should you look for if your child is developmentally challenged? There are additional requirements for camps serving children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, mental disability, and epilepsy. There must be a qualified camp director with experience in working with the developmentally disabled on site. The ratio of staff to children may be as small as one counselor for every two children; it depends on the level of the disability.
Don't be afraid to ask these questions before you entrust your child to a summer camp, or even after you've dropped him off. For more information on keeping your child safe, visit NYSPCC.org.
Photo: children and recreation, via Shutterstock.