Safety Questions to Ask

Melissa Erickson
This article appears in Summer Camp Guide 2020

Keeping kids safe at summer camp involves everything from first aid kits and sunscreen to camper-to-staff ratios and packing medications.

One of parents’ first considerations should be to find out whether a camp is accredited with the American Camp Association, said Dr. Michael Ambrose, founder and CEO of CampDoc, an electronic health record system for camps.

“The American Camp Association sets the standard,” Ambrose said. To earn accreditation camps must undergo a thorough review of operations that include staff qualifications, training and emergency management. The American Camp Association collaborates with experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross and other youth-serving agencies to ensure that current camp practices reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards.

Medical issues, such as if there is camp a nurse on staff and how medication is delivered, are big concerns, but parents also look at overnight summer camp as an investment in their child’s emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth, said Alyson Gondek, director of Camp Woodmont in Northwest Georgia.

“Prevention of accidents and injuries is important at camp, but most parents are concerned about their child’s emotional safety,” she said. “They want to be sure their child fits in, is included and adjusts well to the camp environment.”

Ask the right questions

“Selecting the right program for your child is a matter of knowing your options and asking the right questions. While the internet offers a lot of search options for camp, it’s important for parents to pick up the phone and speak with the owners or directors,” Gondek said.

A conversation can reveal a greater understanding of the experience and background of the camp staff, management, camp’s philosophy and programs, she said.

Medicine management

Medicine management is serious business at summer camp.

“Medications should be brought in their original bottle from the pharmacy and checked-in with the camp nurse or director. Medicine should not be packed and kept in the cabins with the campers, regardless if it’s over-the-counter or prescription,” Gondek said.

Everything from gummy vitamins to herbal supplements to over-the-counter allergy medicines must be documented and communicated to the camp health care team, Ambrose said.

Each camp has its own guidelines and state regulations about what it can and cannot administer while a child is in its care. If possible, medications should be sent to camp before the camper arrives so that health care providers have adequate time to review and sort medications and address any concerns.

The right ratio

The camper-to-staff ratio is important not only so kids get the attention they deserve but also so that they stay safe, Ambrose said. The ideal camper-to-staff ratio recommended by the American Camping Association is:

  • 5 and younger: 1 staffer for each 5 overnight campers; 1 staffer for each 6 day campers.
  • Ages 6 to 8: 1 to 6 for overnight and 1 to 8 for day.
  • Ages 9 to 14: 1 to 8 for overnight and 1 to 10 for day.
  • Ages 15 to 18: 1 to 10 for overnight and 1 to 12 for day.