By Jim Castrataro
This time of year, it is hard to imagine that you should be thinking of summer camps for your children, but it is a good idea to get a jump start on things while you have some extra time during the dark days of winter.
When looking for a camp for your children there are a few key items to contemplate to be sure they will be safe. The highest standard for a camp is held by the American Camping Association (ACA). Many overnight camps aspire to hold this standard and the approval process takes months to complete. If you do not see the ACA symbol next to the camp name the camp is then most likely governed by the state. These regulations can vary from state to state and you will need to do a little homework.
One option is to check the state regulations for a camp. This can usually be found by a simple google search of “Camp regulations, Massachusetts” for example. This document can look overwhelming but look for the key sections on background check requirements, supervision requirements, and policy and procedure documents. A second option would be to call the camp directly. Be sure you are speaking with the camp director or owner. Discuss topics including camper to counselor ratios, pickup and drop off procedures, medical supervision and policy manuals to name a few.
Once you have reviewed this document or spoken with the director or owner, you are only half way there. It is important to follow up with the state and local town, usually the Health Department, to ensure the camp is being inspected annually. If during your contact with the local authority, there is not a sense of familiarity, this should be a red flag. Many states have regulations in place, but if the local issuing authority is not inspecting health records, background checks and conducting at least one on-sight inspection while the camp is in session, it is possible the camp is not operating at the minimum state standards. If this is the case the safety of the camp is squarely on the shoulders of the camp owner. Certainly, many of them even without the state inspection do perform above and beyond the call of duty and are working very diligently to ensure the safety and well- being of your children.
In summary, be cautious and do not be afraid to ask questions. Look for a well-organized business that is working on its camp operations year round. The camp experience should be a fun and enjoyable for your children, but it is up to you to make certain the camp is set up to provide just that.
Jim Castrataro is the Director of Summer Programs at Babson College. His experience spans 16 years directing and consulting a variety of camp programs for thousands of children and young adults ranging from 5-18 years of age.