Most parents have a final checklist before dropping off children at summer camp: backpacks stuffed with extra clothes, sunscreen, water bottles.
But weeks before that day arrives, child protection experts say parents should be checking off a list of questions to ask.
Dr. Mary Pulido, executive director of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, says parents should request a slew of information before signing up a child for camp.
"Forewarned is forearmed," Pulido says, and she provided these question suggestions:
• Does the camp have American Camp Association accreditation? The ACA evaluates the camp’s safety, health, program and camp operations. Some states have more in-depth standards needed for camp operators. New York, for example, requires camp operators to develop a written plan which reflects the camp’s compliance with health code requirements.
• How are staff screened? It’s good to know the background and experience of the counselors caring for your child. The camp operator should ensure that staff have appropriate qualifications needed for the job, such as licenses and certifications. Some states require a criminal background check and a search of the sex offender registry too. Find out how the camp handles these issues.
• What is the ratio of staff to children? In day camp, there must be one counselor for every six children under the age of six; one for every eight children between the ages of six to eight; and one for every 10 children who are between nine to 14. Generally, for overnight camp, there should be one staff member for every five campers ages four and five, one staff member for every six campers six to eight and one staff member for every eight campers ages nine to 14. The camp should also explain to parents how supervision of the campers takes place, particularly on field trips and activities that may be risky, such as swimming, and before and after lights out.
• What trainings do staffers receive? Camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures, child abuse identification and reporting, appropriate behavior and boundaries between campers and staff as well as handling behavioral problems. Parents should find out how the camp disciplines children and in what type of circumstances they would be contacted about problematic behavior.
• How does the camp screen visitors? Parents should make sure that there is a method for making sure that unauthorized visitors are not allowed access to their child. It’s also important for the camps to account for attendance and dismissal from camps. Parents should have a plan in place designating how the child should leave the camp, including the names of those that have permission to visit or escort their child home.
• How does the camp handle emergencies? Parents should ask about past emergencies, including injuries and deaths, and the plan that the camp follows should one occur. This includes situations such as a lost child, a child hurt during an activity, a child becoming ill with food poisoning or having a severe allergic reaction. Find out about CPR and First Aid certifications, what type of medical staff is available and the hospital affiliation. Parents should provide a full description of any medications their child needs, allergies that the child has and their emergency contact information in case something happens to their child. Find out how medications are stored, distributed and recorded, too.
• 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 or 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. Parents should make sure that the camp facilities, grounds and vehicles accommodate their child’s needs. The camp health director must also be located on-site during camp operation.