As the spring approaches and the weather turns warm, thousands of kids across the country begin to dream about attending a summer camp. They should. Summer camp can be the best week of the child's entire year. Or, it can be disastrous. Sometimes, it just takes parents knowing what to ask.
Last year, Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts revealed he had been sexually abused while attending a summer camp. I don't know the details of his story. As he would attest, this is a real issue, and must be taken seriously.
Every year around this time, many parents start calling me asking somewhat similar questions regarding abuse in a camp setting. Unfortunately, all they know to ask is if we do background checks on all our summer staff. Little do they know that only around 3% of sexual predators have a criminal background history.
Over the years I have visited dozens of camps across the country. Some of them have good intentions, but operate in a way that is not excellent. That being said, if I were looking to send my child to a camp that I didn't know much about, there are 5 questions that I believe are essential to ask:
1) How do you screen and select your staff? A credible camp should have written guidelines on how they do this. This includes interviewing, reference checks, and background checks. Find out how selective they are. Do they just hire some friends of theirs, or do they take this aspect seriously?
2) How do you train your staff? I like to say that people know how serious you are about your mission by how serious you are about your training. Get them to elaborate about their training week. In Texas, camps are required by law to do a brief training and give a 25 question test to each summer staffer. Ask them if they do this. Do they go above and beyond in any way?
3) Do you have a monitoring system in place while my child is at camp? This is key. I love my staff, but I watch them. As well, I invite ALL of them to watch me. Creating a culture at camp that no one is "above the law" is important. What does this system look like for them? Do they randomly check areas of camp, or have grids-system sign-offs? This might be the most important thing I would want to know.
4) How can my child report it, in the event that someone is hurting him/her? Children need an anonymous way to report something with which they are uncomfortable. Often, this could be another camper at camp picking on them. The leadership of the camp needs to know about it, so they can remedy the situation quickly. What is the camp's system for this?
5) What is your policy about staff/camper contact after camp? After camp, there is great opportunity for further mentoring in the child's life from their camp counselor. However, there should be guidelines in place. Many parents end up loving their child's counselor, and then give them unrestricted access to their child after camp. This is probably the most common mistake I see parents make. Find out more about the camp's policy on this.
Camp can be such a great experience for young kids. I have watched God transform kids year after year while at camp. As a father, I would not entertain the idea of sending my child to a camp unless I knew the answers to these questions above. I have spoken many times on this subject. If you would like to watch a short, 10 minute video of me explaining these, you can find them here.
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About Kevin East
Kevin East is the Executive Director of Family Matters. He and his wife Stephanie have five unbelievable kids, two of which they most recently adopted. If Kevin isn't busy with work or family, you'll probably find him in the woods near his house with a power tool. He writes at his blog, "Following to Lead". Connect with him on Twitter at @kevinteast.
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