Scare headlines and emotional media coverage almost always follow tragic situations that involve children — fires, car accidents, drownings, abuse, disabling injury, or death.
Soul-searching and a reaffirmation to vigilance usually follow tragic situations that involve children as well. These are mature responses to situations we hear about from our colleagues whether they involve children, adults, guests on our site, or our staff and family members.
There has been considerable media coverage of several incidents over the spring season, and, undoubtedly, more headlines will appear before your camp year ends.
In responding to parents asking questions this spring, we at ACA have found ourselves repeating the Partnership of Caring concept. This represents an opportunity for parents and camp professionals to work as partners in the development of our participants and staff.
The messages below appear on the parents’ page of the ACA Web site (www.ACAcamps.org/parents/ ). We want you to know what we are saying to parents and what questions we are telling them to ask you. In our years of talking with parents, these are the issues they have expressed as concerns.
Why not draft answers to these questions and leave them posted by the phone for those who answer parents’ questions? And why not talk with your staff about what it means to partner with parents in the positive development of their child?
A Parents’ Guide to Child Protection Issues and Camp
Child Protection — A Parents’ Primary Concern!
More than one in ten teens aged twelve through seventeen used illicit drugs in 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Many youth experiment with and use alcohol. Gun violence has jumped in our schools. Newspapers highlight allegations of sexual abuse or experimentation. This alarming news leaves parents wondering where their children will be safe.
No institution of society (churches, schools, youth programs, camps, families) has an impenetrable safety net from the ills of society. However, parents can take steps to assure themselves that all reasonable precautions have been taken to provide an environment that make safety for children the top priority.
Parents and camps can form a Partnership of Caring that will help camps stay vigilant and will help parents feel comfortable that their children are participating in programs whose sponsors keep child protection at the forefront.
We urge every parent to ask the day or resident camp directors to whom they entrust their children these questions.
1. Tell me how you screen staff.
The American Bar Association’s Center for Children and the Law recommends that organizations rely on more than one means to identify child predators. All youth organizations should institute a number of screening procedures that evaluate the background of applicants and their acceptability to work with youth.
Look for an immediate sensitivity from the director for your concern for a safe atmosphere for your child. Directors should explain if they use criminal background checks and why or why not. (Be aware that some states do not give access to background checks for camp directors.) Ask about screening procedures used for return staff.
Directors should explain WHAT ELSE they do — such as face-to-face interviews, character references with non-relatives, work history checks.
2. Tell me what training your staff receives in the prevention of child abuse.
Directors should quickly and easily explain their discipline policies, policies about staff being alone with a single child, policies related to training staff in the definition of and criminal penalties for abuse, and camp policies concerning suspension or termination related to allegations or proof of abuse. Directors should be able to quickly and confidently tell you what the state law is concerning the reporting of abuse — who is a mandated reporter and to whom would they report?
What training does staff receive in the recognizing and reporting abuse or other situations that give rise to concern? How are they trained to deal with such situations?
You may ask particularly about the supervision of “free time,” of overnight activities, or of cabin/group dressing and changing times. Are multiple staff present? Are children informed of persons to whom they can report behavior that makes them uncomfortable?
3. Tell me what supervision your staff receives in the performance of their duties.
Directors should explain the supervision procedures for staff. Do staff supervisors rotate through cabins and activities unannounced? Are counselors’ on-the-job skills observed, and is in-service training provided as needed?
4. What methods do you use to make your staff sensitive to the needs and concerns of children?
Look for directors who verbalize specific training for staff in understanding childr