How safe is your child’s summer camp?

800 521 Karen Fisher

With summer around the corner, the time has come to frantically find things that will keep our children busy! In other words, SUMMER CAMP TIME! It blows our mind that we get parents inquiring about summer camp registration in January! Life truly is speeding up, especially if you want your child in a highly sought after camp.

Our advice? Slow down. At least for a minute. Slow down to think about something important : will your child be safe at summer camp?

According to the American Camp Association, there are over 14,000 day and resident camps in the US each year, and over 14 million children and adults attend those camps. In addition, camps employ more than 1.5 million camp staff to work in various camp positions.

Finding the right camp for your child can be overwhelming. Ensuring your child’s camp takes the appropriate precautions to ensure children’s’ safety can get lost in the chaos of registering, planning, and paying. Are you confident that you know everything you need to know about who will be watching, teaching, coaching, playing with, and mentoring your kids this summer? With larger camp providers, such as the YMCA or camps offered by local parks and rec departments, background checks are run on a normal basis. But what about those camps that are run outside of that type of environment? Who is keeping check on the camp leaders and instructors?

It is your right to inquire about background checks for those people spending time with your children. If they do not have policies for requiring background checks, or your request for a criminal history check or sex offender check offends them, it’s a red flag.

Here are some simple steps to ensure your child is safe while at summer camp:

Screen the camp. It is important for parents to know that the camp has policies and procedures in place to minimize the risk of sexual abuse. Ask the following questions:

  • Inquire about the camp’s reputation. Read reviews. Talk to parents who whose children have attended.
  • Are criminal background checks (including the sex offenders registry) performed on all personnel?
  • Ensure camp leaders have proper education or certification.
  • What training do staff members receive about child sexual abuse?
  • How are campers made aware of what to do if they feel unsafe?
  • Under what circumstances are staff members allowed to be alone with a camper? (Answer should be: NONE!)
  • How does the camp monitor behavior of older campers with their younger peers?
  • Are at least two adult counselors assigned to sleep in each group or cabin?
  • Who is responsible for enforcing camp rules and regulations?

Safey In Numbers. Encourage your child to develop new relationships if they will be at a camp where none of their friends are in attendance. If friends indeed will be in attendance, encourage them to stick together if possible.

Educate about body parts. Explain that NO ONE has the right to touch any part of their body unless that person has a legitimate reason (i.e. doctor or emergency service provider).

  • Use proper terms for genitalia (penis, vagina, anus, etc.)
  • Teach your child that it’s never okay to keep a secret (unless it has an ‘expiration’ date, such as a surprise party). Secrets that make them feel bad or scared are the ones they need to share.
  • It is OKAY to tell if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or scared. KEEP TELLING if they tell and the person they tell doesn’t listen or help them.
  • Make it clear that no matter what another child or adult may tell them, they will never get into trouble for reporting.
  • Explain to your child that they should not be alone with an adult at camp. Seek out additional adults or children to be with if an adult asks them to be alone with them.

Ensure your child will be allowed to contact you. Work on helping your child memorize your phone number. Ensure them that they are always allowed to call you,  no matter what. Inform camp leaders that if your child needs to call you, they need to allow it.

Know the warning signs of sexual abuse

Warning signs of sexual abuse in younger children:

  • Precocious awareness of sexual topics
  • Trouble walking or sitting
  • Seductive behavior
  • Unprecedented shyness about getting undressed
  • Avoiding a specific individual for no apparent reason
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Bedwetting or soiling
  • Expressing concern about genitalia
  • Reluctance to go back to camp

Warning signs of sexual abuse in older children:

  • Unusual interest in or avoidance of sexual topics
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Self-isolation/emotional aloofness
  • Hostility or aggressive behavior
  • Secretiveness
  • Seductive behavior
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Substance abuse
  • Reluctance to go back to camp

Know what to do if you suspect or  your child discloses sexual assaultTake a breath. You will get through this, and you will help your child get through this.

  • Support your child.
  • Explain that abuse is never, ever their fault.
  • Make sure they know you believe them.
  • Praise them for sharing.  
  • More HERE

Minimize the chances of abuse. Child molesters are seasoned at manipulating their victims into believing that the abuse is the child’s fault, that they won’t be believed if it’s reported, and that they or someone they love will get hurt if abuse gets reported. By letting your child know their private parts are off limits to others and that they will never get in trouble for reporting, that it’s never OK for someone to ask them to keep a “forever” secret, and by not allowing any adult to be alone with your child, you’re making your child far less vulnerable to predators who know how to exploit the naivete of children.



Karen Fisher

All stories by: Karen Fisher

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