By Jill Simonian
Summer camp enrollment for kids is happening now across Southern California. While some families are repeat attendees and know the ropes, many parents have fears about sending kids to camp for the first time. How do you find the right fit for your child? How can you make sure it’s safe? How can you best vet a new camp that you think your child will enjoy? While it’s always recommended to talk to like-minded families and friends about their favorite spots, don’t be afraid to ask tough and telling questions before you enroll your child.
Here are a few of the most revealing, must-ask questions your potential camp should answer before you sign the on dotted line and provide payment:
1) Are you accredited by American Camp Association? If not, ask why not. While not all camps are required to be accredited, the ACA is a national organization that works with American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross and other youth-serving agencies to review camps through a 300-point criteria for safety, counselors (including background checks), staff qualifications, emergency protocol and procedures and other operational standards separate from state licensing requirements. Additionally, day camps are currently not required to be licensed in California, so check whether yours is or not.
2) What is the ratio of camp counselors to kids, and are they background checked and/or certified in CPR? Ideally, camp counselors should be background checked for full transparency and parents’ peace of mind, but background checks are sometimes not required if the camp is not accredited. ACA recommends: one counselor per every 4-5 kids (ages 4-5), one counselor per every six kids (ages 6-8) and one counselor per every 10 kids (around age 10 and up). Keep in mind that some camps require mobilization from parks, vehicles and various locations throughout the day, so best to know the camper/counselor ratio for safety reasons.
3) What is your camp’s cellphone policy for campers and counselors? If teens or college kids are counselors, ask if they are allowed to have phones with them, for two reasons: You don’t want them distracted by their phones and you also don’t want them potentially posting pictures of your kids on social media accounts without your knowledge or permission.
4) What is the return camper rate from year to year, and did the camp have to issue refunds for any families last year, and why? Return rates can be very telling and provide deep, unexpected insight. The bottom line? Families return if they’re happy and if the camp is reputable. You also want to know if there were any issues from last year’s sessions that you should know about. Consider asking what the biggest ongoing problem is concerning campers and how staff is dealing with it.
5) Can you describe how campers are supervised overnight (if applicable)? For teens attending sleep-away camps, this is a must-ask.
6) How often do you require hand washing during the day? This not only applies for hikes and outdoor activities, but also for science camps that might involve handling chemicals/fungus/mold for experiments and/or music and cooking camps where dozens of kids often handle the same instruments and equipment. Highly communicable diseases like pinkeye and ringworm don’t just disappear in the summer.
7) How are visitors/guests vetted and screened during camp hours? Are the grounds and open campus or closed campus? Consider how you feel about any possible unauthorized persons having access to your kids.
Parenting resource MomsLA.com is currently offering discounts to nearly a dozen camps around Southern California. Find MomsLA’s 2016 Camp Guide here.
Jill Simonian is a Parenting Lifestyle Contributor and appears every Wednesday on CBS Los Angeles’ 5pm News. Her personal blog is TheFabMom.com. Follow Jill on Twitter @jillsimonian and connect with her on Facebook.