Essential Safety Questions to Ask Before Summer Camp Starts

summer camp, child health and safety
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Each summer, thousands of children in the United States attend a summer camp. While not common, injuries and illnesses can happen, just as they can happen anywhere. As a parent, you can ask a few essential questions up front to ensure that your child’s camp leaders have safety in mind – along with the fun!

The most common adverse effects that happen during camps are injuries due to trips, slips and falls and illnesses such as cold, flu or an infectious disease due to poor hygiene. “Parents should ask camp organizers basic questions about what plans they have in place to keep kids safe, handle medical emergencies, and deal with routine health needs,” says Dr. Joan Bregstein, Pediatric Emergency Physician at New York Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

First, before you even sign your child up for a camp, as if it is accredited by the American Camp Association. This community of camp professionals have worked to preserve, promote, and improve the camp experience for a century and accredits over 2400 camps. The association helps camps meet up to 300 standards for health, safety, and program quality.

Check on how the camp staff is hired. What are their qualifications before being allowed to care for children? Do they require certain certifications or licenses? Have they had a criminal background check? You will also want to be sure that the staff are trained in first aid and CPR and are thoroughly knowledgeable about the facility’s protocols in the case of an emergency.

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Be sure the camp follows the guidelines for staff-to-children ratio. In day camp, there must be one senior counselor for every six children under the age of 6; one for every nine children between the ages of 6 and 7, and one for every twelve children who are 8 years old and above. For overnight camp you should make sure that there is one senior counselor for every six children age 7 or under and one for eight children that are 8 years old and above. The camp should also explain to parents how supervision of the campers takes place, particularly on field trips or activities that may be risky, such as swimming. Ensure you are aware of the discipline procedure as well.

On the first day of camp, be sure that there is a good orientation procedure in place – for both the child and the parents. Parents should be given a copy of important protocols (fire safety, etc) and how they can best reach the senior camp counselor if needed. The child should receive a tour of the camp, be instructed on when they should involve camp counselors (such as in cases of bullying or witnessing an injury). Make sure the buddy system is employed as well during activities such as swimming or hiking.

Make sure that you share emergency contacts with the camp staff that includes all phone numbers you may be at during the camp (ie: home phone, cell phone, grandparents’ phone, etc). Include the name of the child’s primary physician and any medical information the camp counselors may need, such as history of food allergies, bee sting allergies, etc. (Before your child attends camp, it is a good idea to get a full physical first and ensure all vaccinations are up to date.)

Prior to leaving your child, let him or her have some responsibility for safety as well. Remind your child to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to keep sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater) on while outdoors. Pack bug repellent, swimming goggles/floaties, or other items that will be needed for camp.

Knowledge is power! Don't be afraid to ask these and other questions before you entrust your child to a summer camp. For more information, visit www.acacamps.org for helpful tips on camp safety.

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