Summer Camp Safety

Summer camp safety is everyone’s ideal. But risk management ensures it’s a reality.

Few things encourage spiritual growth in kids like attending a Christian camp. Away from other distractions, kids have time to focus on their relationship with God. Unfortunately, camps also provide plenty of opportunities for kids to get hurt—miles from the nearest hospital. Good risk management helps prevent many injuries and lessens the severity of those that can’t be avoided.

In order to make the right choice for your campers, consider this series of evaluations of the camp’s safety program. These tips are from camp directors and risk-management professionals, and they will help you determine whether you have found the best place for your group.

Screening Staff

The best-run camps have great people working for them. They have carefully selected the supervisors, counselors, and others who will be working with your group. Everyone should be screened, whether employee or volunteer. To ensure excellent screening procedures, find out whether all staff and volunteers have submitted a:

  • Written application
  • Multiple reference checks
  • Criminal background check

Staff Training

The best facilities train staff thoroughly, creating a risk-management culture in the process. Determine whether the facility holds training sessions before camp begins each year. Learning that returning staff simply take new people under their wings and “show them the ropes” could be a potential danger sign. Being sure of a formal training program is the only way to know that every staff member has received complete information on the camp’s safety procedures.

Some other areas to ask about regarding staff training include:

  • Camp policies: How do staffers respond to issues such as weapons, smoking, drug/alcohol use or possession, guests, and facilities use?
  • Behavior guidelines: How are staff members expected to interact with campers and each other?
  • Emergency procedures: How will staffers respond t o emergency situations, such as fires, lightning, and natural disasters?
  • Healthcare issues: What is the staff’s role in administering first aid, obtaining professional medical care, notifying parents, and documenting injuries?
  • Abuse prevention and reporting: What procedures must staff follow to prevent children from being abused emotionally, physically, or sexually? What are the reporting requirements that staff must follow if they suspect a camper is being abused (at camp or at home)?
  • High-risk activities: Are all counselors who are supervising high-risk activities, such as swimming, ropes courses, or rock climbing, required to have additional training and professional certification when necessary?

Camper Training

Making sure that campers will learn what they need to stay safe by having an orientation when they arrive on site demonstrates great safety awareness on the part of the camp. Find out whether campers will:

  • Go on a walking tour.
  • Learn emergency procedures (for example, understanding where to go in case of lightning, a thunderstorm, or a tornado).
  • Learn camp rules. Campers should be thoroughly aware of camp policies, such as which activities are off limits unless they’re supervised.
  • Be able to easily identify staffers (perhaps with a nametag, hat, or t-shirt), so they can quickly find someone to help if they witness an accident or feel threatened.

Water Safety

Water activities are a fun way to cool off for campers, but they can also be dangerous. A non-swimmer can drown in just four minutes, and peers may encourage kids to exceed their swimming ability. To be sure your camp will keep participants safe in the water, find out whether the camp will:

  • Have a certified lifeguard on duty: Will there be experienced lifeguards who are trained in rescue techniques and are familiar with the hazards of their body of water? Are there individuals who are not lifeguards providing additional supervision? here policies in place to protect swimmers? For example, are there rules that only those who can swim 150 yards and tread water for two minutes would be allowed to enter water over their heads?
  • Use wristbands: Does the camp use a system of nonremovable colored wristbands allowing lifeguards to note quickly if a poor swimmer is entering dangerous territory? Are there other systems in place for quick assessments?
  • Allow rough, boisterous horseplay: Are chicken fights or other horseplay allowed in water? What about other activities that might cause a distressed swimmer to go unnoticed?
  • Limit the use of inflatable objects: Inflatable objects give people a false sense of security. A poor swimmer who falls off his inner tube in deep water is a drowning candidate. What policies are in place regarding their use?

High Standards Ensure Excellence

As an extra measure of safety, discover whether or not the camp you’re interested in is a member of a recognized organization. There are a host of regional, state, denominational, and national organizations dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in camping and/or camp ministries. The Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA) and the American Camp Association (ACA) are two of the largest. The ACA’s accreditation program is recognized nationwide for excellence. If a camp is a member of either one, it signifies their identification with higher standards. These camps will have access to resources and materials that are unavailable elsewhere, as well as the ability to exchange knowledge with other camp professionals who share the camping vision.

This article was adapted from Volume 18, Issue 2 of The Deacon’s Bench. Used by permission of Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.

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