The Value of Accreditation: Three Levels of Expectation

The Edge

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
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
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 develop their guidelines based upon actuarial concepts. Actuaries evaluate the likelihood of events and quantify the contingent outcomes in order to minimize losses, emotional and financial, associated with uncertain, undesirable events. In other words, the guidelines look at the probability of a loss when specific conditions exist. The underwriting guidelines are more progressive and are developed faster than regulations, as insurance companies are motivated to keep losses to a minimum. Accrediting bodies look to regulations and insurance guidelines as a base for health and safety; however, the standards for accrediting bodies go beyond health and safety and examine the quality of the program based upon the best practices of the profession or field. These best practices generally are measured by both practice and outcome.

In today’s environment, the government and insurance carriers provide a network of regulations and guidelines that address basic health and safety practices. While this network has some inconsistencies in coverage as we look across the U.S., in many cases we find ourselves duplicating the review process of government regulators and insurance risk managers. In developing an updated accreditation program for ACA our challenge is two-fold: 1) develop relationships with both public agencies and insurance carriers to reduce the duplication of effort; and 2) use our resources to develop standards reflecting the professional best practices of the youth development field.

By working in concert with regulators and insurance carriers, we provide camps with an edge in their relationship with these two entities. Developing standards recognized as the best practices in the field of youth development provides camps with credibility in the field, which will provide an edge in recruiting and retaining top staff that are in the youth development profession. And as we all know, top flight staff gives camps an edge in providing a high quality experience for campers and that provides an edge in meeting parent expectations.

Art Wannlund retired as the president/CEO of YMCA of Orange County in 2007, where he provided direction to the $30 million Association, with over eighty-five program locations, and a staff of over eight hundred. He currently serves on the ACA Board of Directors and is the chair of the Education and Accreditation Task Force.

Originally published in the 2009 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.