An occupational hazard of working with children in any congregate care program including camps could create this unfortunate reality. Given the current issues of allegations against university staff, clerics of all religions, local professional caregivers, and the range of top level personnel, it becomes essential to think through this possibility and be prepared should an allegation surface.
First and foremost, camps must understand that they are mandated reporters. The alleged abuse must be reported to the appropriate authorities in that state. See the US Department of Health & Human Services Web page for more: Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws.
A sexual abuse allegation against a camp owner/director should set into motion these other top 10 considerations.
- The accused person must immediately absent him/herself from any and all involvement with campers and staff. No exceptions acceptable.
- If the director's living quarters are not isolated from camp view alternate arrangements must be considered.
- There must be a #2 person immediately available to take full charge of the program. If that person does not exist now, the time to not only select the person but to test his/her ability to handle this assignment is BEFORE the season starts.
- Staff must be met with as soon as possible and informed of the problem. They must be told not to engage in any discussions with campers or anyone else including local community folks.
- A letter must be sent to the camp community — parents, staff, volunteers, board of directors (if they exist) — explaining the allegation and how you are responsibly dealing with them. Public relations firms, an essential component, will assist in creating the communications.
- The director must make him/herself immediately available to local and state law enforcement with a statement of full cooperation on every level. This is a critical move in that cooperation rather than unavailability sets the proper tone.
- Media attention must be expected. Again, public relations firms will script responses and advise how to respond to all forms of media.
- Clinical assistance may be necessary depending on the circumstances. Camps with clinical personnel on staff will suggest the necessary actions. Camps without clinicians on staff should have relationships with clinical programs on a retainer basis when or if needed.
- Internet and any other electronic communication devices available to campers can take total control of this problem away from camp management.
- If a present camper has made the allegation against the camp director, he/she may be at risk of being bullied.
Any allegation of sexual abuse of a child must be taken seriously. The fact that the allegation is against the camp owner/director does not change that fact. While it rarely ever happens, it has happened. No professional is exempt from being a child molester or pedophile. The investigation is both necessary and should be encouraged as painful as that may be.
Contributed by Norman E. Friedman, MEd, Dean – Gene Ezersky Camp Safety College and director of AMSkier Partners, Hawley, Pennsylvania. Contact the author at email@example.com, 800.245.2666.