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Letters to the Editor
I want to commend you on highlighting the serious abuses that could happen with children at our camps and are happening in our communities by including Norman Friedman’s article, “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: A Critical Role of Parents,” in the November/December 2010 issue of Camping Magazine. Those of us who have been privileged to learn from Norm in various contexts are once again lucky to have him as a mentor in this essential risk management topic for camps.
There are two suggestions I would like to add to the outstanding work that Norm has already brought forth. I believe Norm would agree that additional action may be necessary when it comes to training campers to act appropriately if confronted. The first suggestion is that parents need to “test” the learning that they are trying to teach. Good education of any form needs to have an assessment tool. Practicing with children and testing that the child behaves the way you want them to respond is how you can know if you were successful.
Teaching basic skills often requires a great deal of repetition and monitoring. Consider how we teach our children not to open the door for strangers or how to answer the phone when a parent is not available. We review it and we have them role play so that when the time comes to implement those skills for real, they are practiced and this is not the first time they are saying those prescribed words. The same is true with children who may be approached by a child molester.
Parents should review the “No Touch Zones” with their children and then tell their child that some time in the next week there will be someone whom the parent asked who will try to touch the child in one of the “No Touch Zones” so that s/he can practice telling that person that they are not allowed to touch them there. The parent will be in the room with that other person when this happens. Then the three of them (child, parent, and pretender) can all discuss whether the child was able to do what was taught. It may take more than one practice session, but think how much more confident the child will be than if they had to say those words for the first time under the stress and anxiety of being touched inappropriately by a real molester.
The second suggestion is one for camp directors. On the back of every bathroom door in camp, hang a “cartoon-like” picture with the “No Touch Zones” clearly marked. I am going to suggest to Norm that he consider this suggestion and provide the poster. On the card, state clearly who the person is in your camp that the child should tell if any inappropriate touching happens by another camper or an adult. This will be a reminder to the campers of how to stay safe. It will also serve as a warning to the would-be molesters to stay away because that camp is a “No Touch Zone,” where concerns about child molestation are treated with the upmost concern. If a camper is touched, they will easily be able to see who they should talk to at the camp.
Counselors and others should also review this information when they orient the campers to camp. Along with fire and safety instructions, campers will know who to tell if inappropriate touching or even bullying should occur.
Camp professionals need to partner with parents and with campers to eradicate this inexcusable behavior from our camps.
Director, M.S. Camp Administration and Leadership degree program,
Touro University Nevada
I am writing in response to an article in the January/February 2011 issue of Camping Magazine, “Striving for More than ‘Surviving’: An Argument for a Non-Inclusion Model for Camps.”
Although there are certainly children with special needs who will be more successful in a non-inclusive camping model, there are many more who are best served in an inclusive setting. Children on the autism spectrum, for example, can derive great developmental benefits from being in a camp environment that offers a summer experience that is as typical as possible and that gives them exposure to higher functioning peers.
The real problem is that too many programs attempt to include children with special needs in existing programs without properly preparing the camp staff or the camp environment, and without adequately preparing the child and the family for the experience. True inclusion takes an investment in ongoing staff training, the ability to adapt activities to meet children’s identified needs, an understanding that activities must be explained in ways that cater to a range of learning styles, and opportunities for children to make choices — including taking a break from social situations at times. All of this can be done in an intentionally structured inclusive environment that plans for camper’s individual needs.
The movement towards inclusion in our school system is grounded in the portion of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act that asserts that all children be served in the least restrictive environment. This has led to the establishment of a range of educational options and a process by which individual children are assessed and professionals work together with parents to determine the most appropriate placement for that child. Summer camps should operate by that same principle. Many, many children with special needs can thrive in a well-structured, intentional, inclusive setting. The key is to focus on how to best meet each individual child’s needs. When we shift to planning camp for our campers, rather than planning which campers to serve based on our needs as program administrator, all children ultimately benefit.
Executive director, Ramapo Training
Originally published in the March/April 2011 issue of Camping Magazine.