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The Value of Accreditation: Three Levels of Expectation
by Art Wannlund
Many of us believe our American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation program should provide "The Edge" in our camp programs. I have had discussions with many members across the country regarding this, and found there are a number of opinions as to whether or not our program provides us with an edge. Those who believe ACA accreditation does provide an edge, point to the areas of the country where the state or local government agencies have used the ACA Standards as the basis for regulations, or in some cases have provided regulatory relief for "accredited camps." They also point out that some funding organizations require ACA accreditation to be considered for financial support. On the other hand, those who believe accreditation does not provide an edge, point to the low level of recognition among parents and other stakeholders. Further, it is pointed out that a number of insurance companies require much more stringent practices to maintain coverage and/or lower premiums.
So what should our accreditation program provide? Should it provide a baseline that all camps must meet, or should accreditation provide goals to strive for and achieve? In pondering this question, I found we have many expectations for our Accreditation program. Based upon the stakeholder we are focused on, some of these expectations align, and some provide points of conflict.
Differing Levels of Expectation
As was mentioned in the previous edition of "The Edge," we have a broad diversity of camps. In some cases, our accreditation program is too rigorous, and in others, the program does not recognize the complexity and accomplishments of the camp. This is also true of those stakeholders we want to have recognize the value of our accreditation program. Who are some of these stakeholders? I am going to focus on three to illustrate the differing levels of expectations; they are regulators (i.e., health department, state licensing, etc.), insurance carriers, and accrediting bodies.
In the case of regulators, most are interested in licensing a camp in some manner. Using Webster’s Dictionary as a guide, to license is defined as: "permission granted by competent authority to engage in a business or occupation or in an activity otherwise unlawful." The regulating authority uses the compliance with regulations to grant the permission to operate.
Insurance carriers are underwriting the camp operation and property. Going to the definition of "underwrite," we find: "to set one’s name to (an insurance policy) for the purpose of thereby becoming answerable for a designated loss or damage on consideration of receiving a premium." The insurance carrier relies on underwriting guidelines to determine if the carrier is willing to provide coverage and at what premium.
Accrediting bodies develop standards manifesting the best practices of the profession or field. The definition of accreditation is: "a process in which a certification of competency, authority, or credibility is presented." Accrediting bodies use the demonstration of compliance to standards as the process to accredit organizations.
For camps, one of the most important stakeholders is the parent. The parent relies on government to assure compliance with regulations, insurance companies to cover losses, and accrediting bodies to assure demonstration of best practices of the camp profession. Parents also rely on accrediting bodies to assure the camp is permitted by the government to operate and is covered by insurance.
As an accrediting body, ACA works with both government agencies and insurance carriers. In doing so it is imperative we understand the differences and the purpose of licensing, insuring, and accrediting.
The government adopts regulations for the purpose of protecting the public safety. The procedure for adopting regulations generally involves a number of public hearings and the involvement of many groups. In the end, regulations tend to be a base line for health and safety. Insurance companies dev