Many families have either selected the camp for the summer, are in the final phase of decision making OR scrambling around to find just the right camp now. The first question I get asked is how do you know a camp is safe? Well, this is why I have a business helping families find the right summer program. Summer camps need to meet a large list of criteria to maximize the probability that your child will be safe, secure and encouraged to grow independently.
So what are some of the top questions to ask and/or specifics to look for? Here are your top 10.
10. Is the camp accredited? If a camp has to answer to a “higher power” ie the American Camping Association, it means they have been vetted by an outside organization to abide by safe standards. Just because a camp has “credentials”, it doesn’t mean they are safe enough. But it is a good start.
9. Age of counselors? Most camps with which I have worked will not hire a staff member unless they have at minimum, completed their first year of college. There are the exceptions ie kids who have grown up at the camp and have been through training programs. However, the senior counselor in any cabin should be older with vast more experience than spending a year as a college freshman.
8. Camper to Counselor Ratio: Be very careful how you ask this question. Camp directors will often answer with their “total staff” to “total camper” ratio. What you want to know is how many campers are in each cabin and how many counselors sleep in the cabin and have direct responsibility for your child’s welfare.
7. Medical Staff on Premises and Proximity to Emergency Care: You can use, as a rule of thumb, that there should be 1 RN for every 75 children, give or take. In addition, there should be any one of the following -
a. a doctor on premise (and if you have a child that needs more attention, ask what kind of doctor and how long he stays for).
b. a doctor with standing orders, in town (within about 10 minutes)
c. A hospital or emergency care facility within 20 minutes, that emergency evacuation procedures are established ie if a child must be airlifted to a specialized facility, and that the hospitals know of the camp’s existence and have a good working relationship.
6. Facility Security: Although so many camps are quite remote, you still want to make sure that the facility is secure. Is there a guard gate at the entrance? Or a guard positioned to allow people in once it is known they belong? How close is a main road to the center of camp? What is the ease of getting into the camp from every direction? How is it protected?
5. What is the staff training? How many returned from last year? Do the counselors come in at least the week before for full training? Who knows how to do CPR? Who can handle an epi pen? How many counselors are new? Where did they come from? And what about the old guard? Are they too old and burnt out? Are they just right for this position? What is the policy on internet, drinking and drugs? Is there enough back up of counselors to handle necessary firing for bad performance and/or illness?
4. What is the chain of command to handle “issues”? You’ve met the camp director and you like him or her very much. But how large is the camp and how long will it take for an issue to get to the person you trust? How involved is the director in day to day situations? How large is the camp?
3. How do they handle homesickness? I think the most important part of this question is how involved will you be, as the parent, in knowing your child is homesick. Most camps follow a pretty well traveled method to handle a very common occurrence at the start of camp. But how do they involve you? Do you get a call? Can you talk to your child? Should you talk to your child?
2. What are your food policies? Especially when there are allergies, the safety of your child is tantamount when it comes to the strictness of policies. Many camps these days are aware of peanut allergies. But what do they do about them as it relates to your child? All tree nuts? Dairy? Gluten? Find out.
1. Use a Camp Expert… There is absolutely no better way to navigate through the seas of camps that are out on the market these days. A Camp Expert has visited the camps, seen their safety and security protocol in action and has had years of experience working with each of the camps. By using a Camp Expert, you will save many hours of hunting for exactly the right and safe place for your child.
Karen Meister, in partnership with Joanne Paltrowitz, works with the international consulting firm, Camp Experts and Teen Summers. Feel free to contact Karen for complimentary assistance at Karen@CampExperts.com or 305.931.KiDS or 305.931.5437. Thousands of families have received confidential and complimentary guidance to select the best camp and teen programs from around the world. Karen is also the Founder of the LifeMeisters.