The ACA Camp Crisis Hotline continues to be a valuable service to the camp community during challenging times. The hotline saw an increase in usage of 11 percent from the previous year. The majority of calls still come in during the summer months (June through August) while 13 percent of calls received were during the nonsummer months (September through May). The hotline serves as a sounding board for camp professionals who want to talk with another camp professional about a situation in their camp either before it becomes a crisis or during the event. Situations can include a death in camp; abuse (i.e., staff to camper, camper to camper, or abuse reported from home); illness; accidents or injuries; and natural disasters such as fires or flooding.
In many cases, camp professionals are seeking guidance in dealing with a challenging situation. The hotline team is available to help camp staff identify questions that should be asked or various options that could be considered. The following calls were received this past year on the crisis hotline:
Death in Camp
Eight deaths were reported this past summer — five campers and three staff members. Two of the deaths occurred during off-site trips: one camper slipped off a waterfall during a backcountry trip, and the other collapsed after encountering a bear on a hike. One camper drowned in a guarded activity, and a staff member was struck by lightening. Two young campers were killed when tree limbs fell on them, and two staff members were murdered on their time off while visiting a beach in a remote area.
Four medical concerns were reported. One call asked what the camp’s responsibility was for a camper with AIDS who wanted to attend. One dealt with a camper’s allergy to peanuts and what measures or parameters the camp was required to take to accommodate the family. One call discussed the disappearance of stolen medication. Four campers were bitten and/or scratched by rabid skunks.
Personnel issues comprised almost 19 percent of calls. One issue dealt with releasing camper information to a nonparent. Medical considerations for staff included required immunizations for food service staff, and one case of an international kitchen staff diagnosed with hepatitis. One staff member was reported missing from a campout during a precamp overnight. The following employment issues were addressed: a staff member faking a reference; a staff member (not with direct supervision of campers but who worked in the kitchen) with a felony record; and child labor laws regarding junior staff. A staff member reported concern about a camp not adhering to ACA standards and safety concerns within the camp. One camp requested information about an emergency phone service that could relay information to international staff and campers.
Camper behavior is still the largest reported issue to the hotline with 24 percent of total calls. An increase has been noted on the reporting of campers self-mutilating or “cutting” either at camp, home, or both. Several campers were sent home after they were found to be smoking. One CIT was taken to the emergency room after having a seizure after allegedly smoking marijuana in camp. One camp called to seek advice about a camper who had been accused of stealing in the past and who wanted to return to camp. One camper was found to be in possession of a loaded firearm. Two fifteen-year-old campers exposed themselves to a female staff member, and one camper was reported to have made alleged racist and sexual remarks towards staff and female campers. Bullying was reported once.
Of the total number of calls received 22 percent reported child abuse either occurring at camp or at home, and 11 percent pertained to sexual abuse at camp. Half of the issues reported at camp were staff-to-camper issues. Camps called in to question whether they were mandated reporters or to seek contact information for Child Protection Services in their state.
One staff member was accused of verbally abusing a camper. Other issues included: a camper reporting that they were raped by another camper at camp; a counselor allegedly molesting a camper on an overnight trip; two staff having oral sex with a fifteen-year-old CIT; several camper-to-camperabuse incidents witnessed by staff but not responded to; a fourteen-year-old camper coercing several other campers into sexual acts in a tent; and a staff member who had sexual relations with a CIT.
A camper was reported to be seeking attention at camp via sexually inappropriate means. The camper reported being abused at home. A ten-year-old camper was reported to have inappropriately touched other girls. A camper reported having been raped three years ago by someone she knew who was not a family member. A parent was irate with the camp when the camp reported a situation to the state that was revealed by a camper in their program. The camper remained in camp.
Five percent of calls this past year dealt with parent issues related to camp programs. A parent called as she felt her son was in danger in the camp program he was in but didn’t want her son to leave. A camp reported that parents of a camper were threatening to pull their child out of the program if a fifteen-year-old lifeguard was not fired because their child felt scared and uncomfortable with the staff member. A CIT was fired for having alcohol in camp, and parents were irate and threatening action against the camp for early dismissal of their child from the program.
Other Incidents Reported
Thirteen percent of calls received reported other miscellaneous incidents. Severe storms knocked out the power to a camp that was hosting a user group, leaving the camp without power for at least twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Despite the conditions and loss of operation of toilet facilities, water, and dining facilities, the group refused to leave. Fire destroyed part of a camp — campers and staff were safely evacuated. A user group participant reported physical abuse by a boatman with a commercial vendor on a raft trip. Severe flooding left one camp under 7 feet of water and forced it to close for the year. An international staff member was arrested for soliciting sex from local area girls (not campers) using the Internet at camp. Authorities were extremely cooperative with the camp. One camp called to ask who to release a camper to as the parent was hospitalized for a serious injury/ illness, and no grandparents or other guardian was listed, other than an emergency contact. An experienced seventeen-year-old camper got lost on a hiking trip out west and was later found safe. A camp was closed by the leasing agent when it was discovered that there was insufficient insurance in place.
Information received by the hotline team is kept confidential. ACA is not always informed of the final outcome of the situations that are reported. Additional support is sometimes provided by ACA local offices if the camp requests this or gives permission to discuss the incident with the local office.
Questions on whether a camp director/administrator should report child abuse is ongoing. If abuse is reported to you by a camper or staff member or you have reason to believe that abuse has occurred, you are required by law to report. Be familiar with your state law and recognize that it’s not your job to investigate the incident. That doesn’t mean you can’t find out details about an incident in camp, but it’s the state’s responsibility to determine if abuse has actually occurred, whether with your camp or at the victim’s home. Reports should be filed in the state where the abuse has occurred and within twenty-four hours of discovery. Some reports are made to the state; some are made through the county. The hotline team has a list of reporting offices by state available for your reference.
Review Your Plans
Reviewing your risk management and crisis management plans, in addition to your personnel policies, should be an annual practice for your organization. Key considerations during a crisis include contacting legal or medical counsel; contacting your insurance agent, mental health professionals to assist with staff and campers, and contacting parents; and composing key messages to relay to parents, campers, staff, board members, and the media. Questions to consider as you review your risk management planning include:
Who is your legal counsel? Some camps do not keep legal counsel on retainer. Do you have someone who is accessible in the event a crisis occurs? Can you identify anyone related to your organization (a board member or volunteer who may have a legal background) who can help you identify whom to contact or how to proceed in such an event? Are they familiar with your organization? Additional professional practices found in the American Camp Association’s Accreditation Standards for Camp Programs and Services asks whether arrangements for legal counsel have been made and such counsel is available as problems arise (American Camp Association 1998). Does your camp have legal insurance? While many people are unaware that legal insurance is available, it is a tool to help small businesses get legal advice that is more affordable. It works much like an HMO, providing people access to an attorney for consultation on issues before they become big problems. For more information regarding legal insurance, contact your state’s bar association, www.palidan.com/statebar . htm — this link provides contact information to state bar associations nationwide.
Who is your medical team? Do you make personal contact with your camp physician to touch base each year? In the event of a communicable disease or other situation at your camp, do you know who to contact at the health department in your area? Do you maintain copies of books on communicable diseases (such as the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual available through online bookstores such as Amazon. com) for quick reference?
Have you identified mental health professionals who will assist you? Many local hospitals and community or religious organizations have lists of mental health professionals available to help you in the event of a crisis. Contact these professionals prior to an incident occurring to ask for their assistance in the event of a crisis and familiarize them with your program and clientele.
Have you identified a spokesperson? Have you identified someone to serve as a spokesperson for the media in the event of a crisis? Does the spokesperson know he or she has been identified as a camp spokesperson? Does your staff know your procedure for dealing with the media and who speaks to the media, parents, other staff, etc.?
Have you identi?ed key messages? What are the messages you wish to relay to parents, campers, staff, or the media? Will your messages be different depending on the crisis? Consider preparing a statement in advance and tailoring it to the situation as needed.
Having some of these key pieces in place will support you in the event of a crisis within your program. The ACA hotline team is available 24/7/365 to all ACA camps to assist you in identifying key questions, considerations, or resources that will guide you through a situation. Many times camps call in to verify they have taken appropriate steps in a situation. The more planning prior to an incident, the better prepared you’ll be if and when one occurs.
Originally published in the 2004 Fall issue of The CampLine.