Getting ready to send your kiddo off to summer camp, or still in the process of choosing a camp program? You may be focused on what to pack, but don’t forget to think about summer camp safety, too.
But it can be hard to know what to look for when assessing a camp’s safety practices. According to a recent national survey by the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, only half of parents surveyed said they could determine if a camp was safe and healthy for their child. One key safety indicator to look for? Whether the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). Accreditation shows the camp is committed to childrens’ health, safety, wellbeing (and minimizing risks).
What parents look for in a summer camp
So, what are parents looking at when they pick a day camp or overnight summer camp program, according to the survey?
- Location, hours, and cost topped the list
- 2 in 5 parents were interested in activities
- Less than one-third of parents wanted enforcement on electronics and social media
- About 1 in 6 wanted to make sure their child was outdoors
- 3 in 4 parents sought out details on the ratio of staff to children
- More than 3 in 5 wanted to know about first aid training and camp inspections
- More than 50% were interested in emergency preparedness plans
- 75% wanted mask and vaccine requirements
- 1 in 12 parents looked for a camp to accommodate a child’s health issue
Related: 5 tips for summer safety with kids
Look for camps that are accredited
Michele Rowcliffe, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England, says parents should see if the camp they’re looking into is accredited by the ACA.
The state may conduct licensing inspections, but the ACA handles training and safety standards. ACA membership gives the camp access to educational and professional development, too.
“Specific safety considerations are going to look slightly different from camp to camp, depending on the programs they offer,” Rowcliffe says. “Therefore, ACA accreditation is something that helps parents rest assured that the camp's programs meet or exceed standards.”
It doesn’t guarantee total safety, but it does show the camp has taken “extra steps to prioritize evolving industry safety standards,” Rowcliffe says. And while accreditation does mean that camps are routinely inspected (The ACA website says they have scheduled visits with their member camps to focus on education), it’s not a guarantee that all staff members have received safety training. “That cannot be assumed, particularly in this difficult labor market where camps may be hiring staff at the last minute,” says Sarah Clark, a pediatric research scientist and co-director of the Mott poll.
Red flags to watch out for
There’s a lot to consider when picking a summer camp, but here are some red flags to watch out for, according to Clark:
- The staff doesn’t know the name of the camp director when asked
- The staff doesn’t have access to parents’ emergency contact information when asked about it
- There’s no first aid kit on site when asked about locating it
- There seems to be no effort to interact with adults and older children who show up to the camp area, to ensure that they are connected to campers
A checklist for keeping kids safe at summer camp
These considerations can help parents integrate safety into their decision-making:
- If your child is in a remote area of the camp, ask if the camp has a shelter to protect kids in inclement weather
- Inquire about how the camp keeps kids safe if they take a trip off the campus
- Ask if the staff has basic first aid and CPR training and supplies—especially if the camp involves physical fitness
- Check if the lifeguards are certified if water is present
- Meet the staff member responsible for supervising children with health needs. Make sure they have your emergency contact information readily available. (Translation: Don’t assume the information made it from your registration form to the medical team)
- Does your child require an Epi-pen? Confirm it’s available—and the staff knows how to use it
- For smaller kids, ask about how the camp ensures they always have sunscreen applied and reapplied
- Find out what the camp does in the event of a Covid case and/or exposure. (Pro tip: You can now keep tabs on Covid cases in the camp’s county using the CDC website)
- See if the camp has any mental health services on site or on call, or if they’ve trained counselors in mental health
- Ask if the camp has a list of things to pack
Susan Yeargin, PhD, ATC, a mom who has been happy with the safety protocols at the camp her kids attend, explains why:
“They have two nurses on staff each week and communicate to parents who it will be with names and faces,” Dr. Yeargin explains. In addition to having a lifeguard, AEDs and a CPR-certified individual on site, the camp makes sure the children are informed of policies directly.
“Since it’s a week-long sleep away camp, they have a safety talk on the first day with all the kids at the camp. And the children practice an emergency action plan of sorts on the first day,” she says. “My son’s first year, they needed to enact the emergency plan, and all the children knew exactly what to do. That shows me the camp prioritizes safety.”
Sarah Clark, a pediatric research scientist and co-director of the Mott poll
Michele Rowcliffe, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England